Minimal Lines, Modern Materials

SEFAR Architecture LIGHTFRAME – Minimal Lines, Modern Materials

By: Thomas Simister, AIA LEED AP BD+C – Senior Associate, Sasaki Associates, Inc.

Defying predictions of its impending obsolescence, the academic library is undergoing a dramatic rebirth and reinvention. The continuing evolution of technology, the reassessment of the basic tenets underlying teaching and learning, and the ever-increasing awareness of fiscal limits have driven a dramatic rethinking of the library’s role on campus.

This context of change prompted Saint Edward’s University to dramatically transform its library. Until now, the campus lacked a signature academic space, emblematic of the values of the Congregation of the Holy Cross as being intrinsically connected to the community and grounded in the natural world. This learning commons reconnects a neglected grove of live oaks to the network of shady courtyards that dot the campus hilltop. Framed views at either end emphasize these connections and establish the library as the academic heart of the University.

Student interactions, research and inquiry all happen within sight of one another and are supported by a technology-rich environment in a variety of study spaces. Daylight penetrates the building through large expanses of glass and skylights, which reflects, diffuses and filters the light as it travels inside. A LIGHTFRAME® system by SEFAR® Architecture was selected and achieves a fifty percent reduction in sunlight, creating an evenly-illuminated study environment. This was a design objective from the beginning, but it took much iteration to arrive at the LIGHTFRAME solution. We studied a variety of filtering solutions – from digitally-fabricated metal panels to wood louvers – but LIGHTFRAME was a unanimous choice for its quiet elegance. In consultation with Lumen Architecture and SEFAR Architecture, we selected fabric and foil to diffuse the light while allowing hotspots from the skylights to track across the fabric throughout the day.

The LIGHTFRAME proportions harmonize with those of the commons, which are reminiscent of sacred reading rooms such as Trinity College. Materials and colors are in keeping with the campus vernacular as is the roof shape and brim, which are contemporary reminders of low-slung shed roofs common to ranches in central Texas.

From an architect’s perspective, the minimal lines of LIGHTFRAME work well with the contemporary materials in the space. The owner’s maintenance concerns were assuaged by the durability of the materials and that the separation between the ETFE foil and fabric baffle won’t allow evidence of dirt and bugs to be visible from below. At night, the fabric serves as a reflector for indirect lighting. The passage of time is palpable, yet serene.