For architect Celia Imrey, the new Edgartown Library feels like home

New York City based architect Celia Imrey, at her Katama home, is responsible for designing the new Edgartown Library. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Celia Imrey is all about building relationships. A third-generation Vineyarder and New York City-based architect, Ms. Imrey is in charge of designing the new Edgartown Public Library. And it’s not a task she’s taking lightly.

In an interview with The Times last week, Ms. Imrey recalled fondly her time spent on the Island. “I grew up spending summers on the Vineyard, and I was a library patron. Now my children are library patrons,” Ms. Imrey said.

She recalled stories about her mother, who lived on the Vineyard when she was just a toddler and grew up reading the classics at the old Carnegie Library on South Water Street when it was just two rooms. “She would say the old library had all the books she ever wanted to read,” Ms. Imrey said. “When she had read everything, she would just reread.”

Ms. Imrey graduated from Brown University magna cum laude and took a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University.

In 2010, the town hired Imrey Culbert, a design partnership with a focus on museum architecture and gallery design. That partnership has since dissolved, and Ms. Imrey now runs Imrey Studio. Ms. Imrey says she enlisted the help of Jeffrey Hoover from Tappe Associates as her Massachusetts partner.

“We have a really good client, a good team. We work together well. I think that’s an important part of the process,” Ms. Imrey said.

Her notable work in public and cultural institutions around the world includes the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum in New York, the Musee Louvre-Lens in France, and recently the Museum of Textiles in Bangkok.

Her ties to the Island have given the library project a special place in her heart, she said.

Sense of history

Sitting in her newly built and still-under-construction house off Katama Road, Ms. Imrey discussed her vision for the library.

“Stylistically, this project is significantly more historical than any other project I’ve ever done,” Ms. Imrey said.

Brought on as a consultant to the project in 2009, she says she wanted to approach the design from a fresh perspective. “My brain had gone through the process of thinking, well, what does this library actually need?”

According to the plans, the design hinges on the interconnection of three programmatic spaces: the adult collections, the children’s collections, and a new multi-purpose space that will function as the gallery for paintings and prints. The gallery will also host lectures, film screenings, concerts, entertainments, and other programs.

“This town doesn’t have a Chilmark Community Center, it doesn’t have a great public space, so there’s a lot of programs that this gallery space could host,” Ms. Imrey said. “Catered events, a dinner, an awards ceremony, a big meeting for an organization, you name it. Having a room like that can serve the greater community.”

The three volumes, each with wrap-around monitor windows and standing-seam metal roofs, are designed to be distinct from the inside out. The adult wing will feature exposed wood trusses and visible post-tensioning cables. The children’s wing will have a vaulted plaster ceiling with compressed reading nooks along the perimeter. And the gallery is designed with an articulated plaster vault with a translucent glass clerestory—high windows that invite natural light.

As Ms. Imrey described the design, she made particular note of the children’s wing.

“It’s separated as its own entity. It’s not a room in a building, it’s their own building,” Ms. Imrey said. “And that use and identity is empowering.”

As for the inspiration behind the clerestory windows, Ms. Imrey said, “We read in light, so bringing light from a really high source is an act of dramatizing the act of reading.”

Other notable features, Ms. Imrey told The Times, will include the use of pietra serena stone inspired by Michaelangelo’s Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) in Florence, in addition to custom-made table cases and hand rests.

“The building acts kind of like a leather-bound book. There’s these strong brick ends, and then there’s a soft spot that opens up with window walls that are transparent. That’s where people will be able to communicate from the inside to the outside,” Ms. Imrey said.

A little history

The Carnegie Library building was built circa 1904, with an addition added in the 1930s. The rear part of the library was expanded in 1975, when the town’s population was around 1,500. The population has nearly tripled in year-round residents since then, as has the need for more advanced technology when it comes to library services, supporters of the new library say.

In 2004, the Edgartown Free Public Library wrote a building program for a construction grant offered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The Warren building turned out to be structurally unsuited for supporting floors full of books, and those plans fell through. The town scrapped the plans and gave up a $4.6 million matching grant from the state.

“When I started the process with the building commission, after I got the job, the task was to expand the library on its current site, on North Water Street, and there was a lot of debate around that,” Ms. Imrey said.

After presenting design drawings and site studys for two sites: the site of the current library on North Water Street, which includes the adjacent Captain Warren House, and the brick building that once housed the Edgartown School on Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, voters supported plans to build a new public library on the site of the old elementary school building. At their October 2012 meeting, the state Board of Library Commissioners announced the release of a provisional grant of $5 million to Edgartown, the state’s share of the construction project.

Dollars and Cents

The Edgartown Free Public Library has been budgeted at $11 million. Edgartown has $5 million in state grant funds, and voters have agreed to a $4.9 million municipal bond issue. The balance of $1.1 million has already been paid by the town through allowable credits, according to About $350,000 of the $4.9 million bond will be used to meet the energy-efficiency standards of the federal LEED program; this money will be reimbursed to the town when the new library wins LEED certification — typically around six months after the building opens.

As for the Carnegie Library, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust has agreed to take the lead in planning for adaptive community uses of the historic Carnegie Library building.

In addition to the work on the Edgartown library, Ms. Imrey has started a new company called SpaceKit. “It’s a response to the fact that residential design could be simplified and made more efficient,” Ms. Imrey said. “So I’ve put into place a process of getting design done for residences that really, really works well.”

In the meantime, Ms. Imrey is intent on seeing this project through. Construction is to begin this winter.

“You look at it and you can’t mistake that it’s the new library,” Ms. Imrey said. “Its been so much fun, its been great, and it’s a great way to give back. I hope I’m their first patron.”