La Conner Swinomish Library

La Conner, Wash.

Best Project, Cultural/Worship

Submitted by: BuildingWork

Owner: The La Conner Regional Library

Lead Design Firm: BuildingWork

General Contractor: Tiger Construction

Civil/Structural Engineer: KPFF

Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer: The Greenbusch Group⁠ Inc.

Electrical Engineer: TFWB Engineers⁠

Landscape Architect: Karen Kiest Landscape Architecture

Lighting Designer: Blanca Lighting Design

Envelope Consultant: RDH Building Science

LEED Consultant: ArchEcology

Specifications: Applied Building Information

Cost Estimator: Project Delivery Analysts

Photography: Doug Scott

The $3.5-million La Conner Swinomish Library honors the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s culture as well as the history of the town of La Conner. Situated on a 10,500-sq-ft site, this facility provides a much needed public resource for the coastal Skagit County area.

Since the site falls within a FEMA floodplain, the main floor had to be elevated 4 ft above grade. Combined with onsite parking requirements, these factors limited both site development and the size of the building. The team also had to navigate the project’s relatively small budget. During the design phase, the library was put on hold when stakeholders realized additional funding would be necessary. Then the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community came on as a project partner and benefactor, playing a key role in the project’s development and allowing work to continue.

The team “nicely balanced the historic, cultural and civic responsibilities inherent in the project,” a judge said during the scoring process.

To meet the strict local and national historic district design guidelines, the design team took a sensitive approach to the historic context while creating a contemporary civic building that uses innovative building systems and meets the library’s forward-thinking programmatic goals. The design team studied the town’s history and conducted a photographic survey of its stock of historic commercial buildings, which helped the team reinterpret character-defining building patterns into the library’s design—such as small-scale massing at the street, tri-part facade hierarchy, projecting bay windows and wood siding and detailing.

La Conner Swinomish Library

Photo by Doug Scott

Another crucial element was incorporating Swinomish history, culture and community into the design. The architects consulted with tribal members and revised the building massing and facade to integrate a traditional story pole at the library entrance, which was designed and crafted by a Swinomish elder and master carver. Swinomish culture was brought in through other means, such as the use of specific colors, materials and art throughout the building’s interior and exterior. Manufactured using locally sourced Douglas fir, the CLT panels are fully exposed inside the library.

“Fitting the design for this library into the client’s budget without compromising BuildingWork’s design intent was key to making this project happen, and we are grateful for the teamwork and collaboration between BuildingWork, the La Conner Swinomish Library team members and Tiger Construction,” says Sean Burkhart, project manager at Tiger Construction. “The result is a unique library that’s become an idiom of the La Conner and Swinomish community.”

La Conner Swinomish Library

Photo by Doug Scott

Cross laminated timber (CLT) was chosen for the building’s primary and secondary structure. Use of this sustainable, low-carbon building material also enabled the contractor to erect the building enclosure in just three days.

Mass timber is a “key sustainable design strategy, with CLT used for nearly the entire building structure,” says Matt Aalfs, partner and design principal at BuildingWork. “We worked closely with our structural engineers to design the CLT as efficiently as possible, and we developed the bid documents to thoroughly illustrate the CLT design to reduce the perception of risk to bidders.”

The project was completed on time and within budget in July 2022.