Shepley Bulfinch Completes New Cabell Library at VCU

Shepley Bulfinch Completes New Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University

New building defines the academic library of the future, receives first place award from Library Journal

BOSTON – September 29, 2016 – Shepley Bulfinch, a national architecture firm known for design excellence and innovation with offices in Boston, Houston and Phoenix, today announced the completion of the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a public research university in Richmond, Virginia. VCU’s newly expanded and renovated Cabell Library includes 156,000 sf of new construction and improvements to existing library space in the Monroe Park Campus library, providing VCU’s 31,000 students with more space to study, collaborate, discover, create, and conduct research. Shepley Bulfinch is also proud to announce that the Cabell Library project received the first place honor in Library Journal’s New Landmark Libraries Award competition, one of only ten projects nationally to be recognized with this honor.

“I have been a librarian now for 35 years. For 25 of those years I was surrounded by generations of library buildings principally concerned with storage and retrieval of print materials and related artifacts. As a library director, the urgency of transforming that 20th century vision has never been more compelling. Libraries today have more visitors than ever before, more demands on their resources than ever before, and reside more than ever at the very heart of intellectual and academic pursuit,” said John E. Ulmschneider, university librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University. “With the Cabell Library project, we had the unique opportunity to create a library that embraces our robust campus community and announces VCU’s prominence as a world-class research institution. Shepley Bulfinch has designed an extraordinary new building that evolves our collective understanding of what a library can and should mean. The result is an academic library that stands unique in Virginia, and rare nationally, for its architectural beauty, functionality, and immense utility to students.”

VCU’s Cabell Library, which is among the busiest academic libraries in Virginia, was built in 1970 and expanded to its current five floors in 1975. Originally designed as a facility whose primary function was to store collections, the library faced a dire need for “people-focused” spaces to serve more than two million visitors annually. The $50.8 million project transformed the introverted precast concrete box of the existing Brutalist library into a civic and campus landmark that provides students and faculty with a beautiful and light-filled academic library of the future. Designed to be as flexible and operationally efficient as it is engaging and inviting, the new library introduces a range of multi-use spaces for study and focused and collaborative work. Ninety percent of the space was designed specifically for student use, and the new library doubles existing seating capacity to nearly 3,000. Patrons are pulled vertically through the building via a series of open stairs, with each new vista offering a sense of beauty and delight and higher floors providing progressively quieter areas. Designed to achieve LEED Silver certification, the building’s features include:

  • New student-focused spaces featuring 25 group study rooms, two large state-of-the-art classrooms, and a third-floor “reading porch” with outdoor-style furniture, ceiling fans, and windows that open;
  • An area dedicated to video and audio production and editing, digitization, high-end computing and equipment loans;
  • A two-story daylight-filled lobby with expanded ground floor café, that further boosts the library’s role as a gathering place;
  • A new third-floor, 300-seat multi-functional event space features a mosaic video wall, and the entire north side of the room is a moveable glass wall that opens to a large outdoor terrace;
  • A “silent space” on the fourth and highest floor, a label requested and enforced by students;
  • A dedicated faculty and graduate research center in a large glassed-in fourth-floor room that offers expansive views of the Monroe Park Campus.

Dedicated in March 2016, the state-of-the-art facility enlivens the entire campus with an interplay of materials and draws a connection between the library and the civic buildings around it. The new addition’s glass, limestone and metal exterior envelops the original building’s northern side and wraps around a portion of the eastern façade. As a counterpoint to the opaqueness of the existing library, the exterior walls at the northeast corner are entirely glass, making the activity within visible to passersby. Expanses of the new façade feature limestone panels with large windows, filling the space with daylight. The original building’s exposed precast panels were re-clad with the same limestone veneer used on the addition. The designers responded to the verticality of the original building’s slot windows with a series of glass fins that provide solar shading and repeat the rhythm in a lighter, more accessible way.

Shepley Bulfinch served as the project’s design architect and Virginia-based Moseley Architects was the architect of record. Other project team members include:

  • Construction Manager-at-Risk: W.M. Jordan Company
  • Civil Engineer: VHB
  • MEP Engineer: Affiliated Engineers, Inc. (AEI)
  • Structural Engineer: Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan, PLLC (DMWP&V)
  • Landscape Architect: H&G Landscape Architects, LLC
  • Lighting Consultant: Collaborative Lighting, LLC
  • Cost Consultant: Daedalus Projects, Inc.

Library Journal‘s New Landmark Libraries Award competition honors the best new academic library buildings that offer inspiration and design guidance for the library of today and tomorrow. The jurors’ had the following to say about the project:

  • “Impressed with how they met the challenge of serving a more complex clientele than most academic libraries. A clear asset to the neighborhood as well as the campus.”
  • “Really striking library, and great integration of old and new structures. I love the light, openness, and—given the high-tech feel—simplicity of the finishes.”
  • “This carefully considered building enhances the life of the campus in addition to increasing library services.”

VCU’s Cabell Library is profiled in the magazine’s September issue and can be found at

About Shepley Bulfinch

Shepley Bulfinch is a national architecture firm known for design excellence and innovation. With offices in Boston, Houston, and Phoenix, the firm provides architecture, planning, and interior design solutions for leading institutions in academics and healthcare, as well as urban development and civic organizations. Practicing design that is an elegant synthesis of aesthetic, physical, and cultural influences, Shepley Bulfinch strives to advance design by sparking a dialogue with clients who are leading change in the built environment. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter at @ShepleyBulfinch.

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