Appaloosa Public Library, exterior, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Scottsdale Public Library, 2010; Used with permission.

Appaloosa, Arabian, Palomino, Mustang…all of the branches of the Scottsdale Public Library in Arizona are named after horses. Symbols of the freedom and movement of the west, horses are also excellent symbols for the ways in which libraries can take you places. Like their equine namesakes, these libraries are beautiful. The Appaloosa Branch is the latest breed in the Scottsdale corral. Opened in November of 2009, it has already won a multitude of awards for excellence in design. This Gold-level LEED certified building reflects, both literally and figuratively, the Sonoran desert environment in which it is situated. Themes of hovering suspension, striated layers, and shimmering light reflection inform the design aesthetic, all working together to form a mirage-like apparition.


Along the McDowell Mountain Range and sited among the dichotomies of serene desert landscape and expensive suburban sprawl, the Appaloosa branch gleams, iridescent as dragonfly wings. Conceived as an answer to the water-wasting, AC-blasting institutional buildings in the Southwest, this library had a secondary goal of demonstrating that sustainability could be beautiful. Its primary goal was to fulfill its mission: “The Scottsdale Public Library provides a supportive environment for the community to discover opportunities, explore ideas, interact with others, and become life-long learners” ("Scottsdale Public Library," n.d.).

Situated between Phoenix and the Salt River Indian Reservation, Scottsdale, AZ is a town of 245,500 that is aging, wealthy and white. Known for its active arts and cultural life (and over 200 golf courses) the demographics of the area also reflect the some of the conflicts of use and funding of public libraries. While well-off homeowners fund libraries, white people over age 52 use them less than lower-income minority families with children ("More Americans Than," 2009; Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2007).
Arabian Public Library, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright owner Carlos J Meyer Photography; Used with permission.

Source: US Census Bureau, 2010
United States
Household median income
% of pop. over age 65
% of pop. “white”

The Scottsdale Library System is known for innovative architecture. The Arabian branch is a “minimalist and elegant composition of weathered steel,” (Levinson, 2008, p. 96) that has won multiple awards, and is LEED Silver certified (Meinhold, 2009). The Scottsdale area is an architectural Mecca with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West school located less than ten miles from Appaloosa. The North Scottsdale area in which Appaloosa is located is “is currently the most actively developed area of Scottsdale …[with] many of the most expensive homes in the country, with many exceeding $5 million in value “ ("Scottsdale, Arizona," n.d.). Will Bruder, another famous modern library architect, has designed several projects in and around Scottsdale.

Appaloosa Public Library, architectural drawing; Copyright holder: Jeremy Jones; Used with permission.

2000: Bond passed to fund library
February 21, 2007, open house for neighborhood to discuss library
June 28, 2007: artists renderings available for comment at open house
December 2007: Design Development completed
June 2008: SPA Board approved budget of $110,000 for art installation
August 2008: Artist Anna Skibska selected
September 2008: Construction began
September 2 - September 4 2009: Artist Skibska installation
November 2, 2009: Opened to public
November 4, 2009: Grand opening celebration
March 10, 2010: LEED Gold certification

Project description

Appaloosa Public Library, entryway, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Scottsdale Public Library; Used with permission.

The Appaloosa Branch has:
  • 21,500 ft2
  • 4.5 acres of land
  • 80,000 materials
  • 48 public computers
  • An early literacy children's area & teen space
  • A cafe
  • Two meeting rooms
  • Group study rooms and a quiet room
  • A drive-through service window
  • A shaded reading patio
  • A library shop
(“Appaloosa library facts,” n.d.; ("Appaloosa Branch Library," n.d.b).

Green Design
While the design team of Jones & Sydnor first considered the site and how the library would be used, Scottsdale’s requirement for all new city buildings to be LEED gold-level certifiable was applied to the initial design ("LEED News Release," 2005). In fact, the concepts of form and function were inextricably linked to the sustainability of this desert building. The architects focused upon the concept “of a mirage that just kind of hovers and doesn’t disturb the
Appaloosa Public Library, cafe, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Carlos J Meyer Photography; Used with permission.
site” (Schumacher, 2010).

The Appaloosa Branch uses “31% less energy and 53% less water than a conventional library” and attempted to fulfill 42 points for LEED NC 2.2—Gold certification ("Appaloosa Branch Library," n.d.)The environmentally-friendly ethos permeates the design. Low-emitting materials were used, from the adhesives and paints to the carpets and plywood. The factory that manufactured the carpet is certified as low-polluting. (Jones, 2010). The R-19 wall insulation is spun from recycled blue jeans (Jones, 2010; Bui, 2009).

Albedo is kept to a minimum by a white roof and light pollution, especially unwelcome in the region of Kitts Peak National Observatory, is minimized (“Appaloosa library facts,” n.d.). Lighting and HVAC are automated and motion sensors turn off light in unused areas, but users can dim lights as needed. “The windows are dual pane with low-E coating and are turquoise in color to block infrared light (heat)” and “the building was also rotated from true north to maximize solar gain. (Jones, 2010). The rotation also helps to control the quantity of direct light in the building.

Sustainability by the numbers:
26% of the materials used are recycled
60% of the steel is recycled
Appaloosa Public Library, cafe, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Carlos J Meyer Photography; Used with permission.

60% of countertops is recycled Paperstone
90% of cabinet material in the café is recycled Kirei Board
70% of restroom counter tops are recycled glass
75% of the aluminum in the curtain wall is recycled
94% of the material in tire stops is recycled
Over 26% of the materials were regionally sourced.
56% of the wood was certified (harvested sustainably)
2.5% of the maximum power consumption is provided by the 6KW photovoltaic system
(Jones, n.d.)

Appaloosa is not merely a ecologically-sensitive building, but educates the public on green initiatives through weekly programming (Adkins, 2010), the Meet Green initiative which asks meeting room users to do things like run paper-free meetings and nix bottled water and disposable cups (Bruzas, 2010). Also a computer screen gives a constant readout of “real-time depictions of energy consumption and solar energy generation in a graphic display” for anyone who’s interested (Jones, 2010). The display constantly updates the library’s carbon footprint. The energy display helps staff decide when to turn off lights and computer banks, and shows increased energy consumption when school lets out and kids arrive to use computers (Jones, personal communication, June 3, 2010).

Construction Process
The green theme began before the building did. Construction workers were trained on dust control methods, important in desert environments. Silt fences, protected storm drains and a stabilized construction entry were constructed to reduce erosion during construction, and to keep any sedimentation in local waterways to a minimum. 95% of the leftover construction materials were recycled. In fact, “construction had progressed for several months before the garbage container was dumped for the first time” (Jones, 2010).
Appaloosa Public Library, patio, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Scottsdale Public Library; Used with permission.

The library was built by Haydon Building Corporation using the CM at Risk model, ("Community Centers, Recreation," n.d.) rather than design-build or a bidding format. CM at Risk is a process that reduces the risk of budget overruns for the owner, allows the construction manager to operate with a team of the other stakeholders and forces the construction manager “to deliver the project within a Guaranteed Maximum Price” ("Construction Management," n.d.).

Site & Landscaping
A Western theme park called Rawhide, complete with simulated mine shaft and rodeo occupied the site of the Appaloosa Branch Library from 1971 to 2005 (Bui, 2009). Prior to that, the site was part of a Native American reservation. The former parking lot of Rawhide is now being turned into reclaimed desert, using largely existing vegetation.

The site involves a 14-foot elevation change and it often flooded. In response to the difficulties of such a site, a protective berm was created, parts of the site were re-graded and the entryway to the library is a bridge over an arroyo where water can flow in the event of a flood. The erosion damage of flash floods was mitigated by careful placement of rocks. (Jones, 2010).

No mowing, fertilizing or watering will be necessary once the restored plants are established. Saguaro cacti, vines, palo verde and eucalyptus trees were reclaimed to create “an oasis in the midst of less indigenous development” (Jones, n.d.). The plantings are denser in the arroyos where water will flow during the rare rainstorms. In keeping with the educational mindset of libraries, open areas will allow for landscaping demonstrations (“Appaloosa library facts,” n.d.;)

The entry "bridge" is vine-shaded and patio design incorporates a roof overhang to shade the area, which makes it possible for library users to enjoy the desert ambiance without being baked in the up to 122 degree sun ("Scottsdale, AZ," n.d.).

Parking Lot & Transportation
Jeremy Jones (n.d.), one of the architects of the Appaloosa Branch, commented “Community Connectivity was achieved when the City selected a site that was surrounded by a wide variety of commercial, service and residential uses including a main Post Office. This helps people consolidate trips.” Those users who choose to bike to the library will find abundant bicycle racks, and staff have been given changing areas and a shower. Electric and hybrid cars get premium parking, as do carpoolers. While no public transportation yet reaches this library, there are plans for future access.

The parking area consists of decomposed granite gravel that provides a porous surface for drainage. Instead of using continuous cast concrete as curbing, bumpers and tree wells are used to increase water flow (Planning Commission Staff, 2007). This parking lot has come in for some criticism by the largely well-heeled community, but is more environmentally sound than a paved lot and retains less heat than paved lots (Corbett, 2009). The handicapped parking spaces are paved to allow for convenient access to the library.

Aside from a drive-through window, there is also a dropbox for donations and the regular bookdrop offers receipts for returned items. Behind the scenes, a sophisticated book sorting system assists the librarians in getting the returned items back on the shelves ("On the PL Road:," 2010).

Exterior Finishes & Windows
Tim Del Monte, regional sales manager for Morin, the fabricators of the exterior wall panels, says "the building finish really is the focal point of the building," ("Appaloosa Branch Library," n.d.a). The Appaloosa Branch is the first commercial building in the United States to use an innovative Vari-Cool coating. The coating, "which consists of mica chips in a clear base that creates shifting colors depending on the angle of view, ("2010 library Design Showcase," 2010) reflects infrared light and heat. The pearlescent chips shimmer from green to pink to lavender to "a light gray-green tint that matches plants, sand and the surrounding desert landscape. ("Appaloosa Branch Library," n.d.a). The satin gleam of the Vari-cool siding enhances the mirage effect sought by the architects. Moreover, a convective cavity under the metal cladding allows for heat to dissipate before affecting the interior space.

The roof appears to float above a row of clerestory windows, which allow indirect light into the library, while reducing glare and heat. The rear wall of the library displays a whimsical array of square and rectangular windows that are actually spelling out "The Appaloosa Library" in Morse Code. The roof is extended in the east, so that by a 9 a.m. opening time, the main sitting area will be in shade (Corbett, 2009).

Interior design
Running the length of the library, through the interior space, is a 275 foot wall that is 20-32 feet tall. Made of concrete, the wall was poured to resemble sedimentary layers, with "large granite cobbles in the lower course followed by a layer of red jasper aggregate and then river run aggregate with sand-blasted concrete above" (Development Review Staff, 2007). The concrete wall separates the staff areas from user’s areas.

The main room is 70 x130 feet, with high, open ceilings, white painted ducts and exposed beams, and little direct sunlight, but exterior views at nearly every turn. "Sunsets will color the whole room with changing shades of pink and orange, while thunderstorms will be visible wherever they occur" ("App
Appaloosa Public Library, stacks, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Carlos J Meyer Photography; Used with permission.
aloosa Branch Library," n.d.b).

The architects thought carefully about expansion and technology changes. They used a raised floor to accommodate duct changes. Two of the walls are folding, allowing for reconfigured spaces. Meeting rooms can be opened to accommodate up to 100 people, and built-in storage allows unused chairs and tables to be tucked away when unneeded.

Shelves are illuminated with LED lights and the ends of the stacks are striated clear plastic embedded with branches of a native shrub called Mormon Tea. In the main room, the stacks radiate from a central, circular, seating arrangement that encourages social interactions. This is the core of the library, both architecturally and as its mission as a community center. "Reversing the historic trend, a quiet room and conference rooms were developed for those who seek tranquility as they read, while more active browsing and other library uses are less restricted" (Jones, 2010).

Many types of seating arrangements are used in the library. Tutoring areas, a conference room, a study room and computer lab all call for diverse furniture, which are in shades of brown, green and amber. A children’s area is filled with interactive devices such as called "Wind up the wind". You turn a wheel and these giant pinwheels up above turn and make a wind sound. ("On the PL Road:," 2010). The teen space, separated from the main room by a zigzagging glass wall, is filled with rearrangeable furniture.
Appaloosa Public Library, teen display area, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Scottsdale Public Library; Used with permission.

The Café, the interior reflection of the adjacent patio, is encircled with 2 walls of magazine stands and vending machines behind an organic-appearing counter ("On the PL Road:," 2010).

In keeping with the arts focus of the community and the building itself as art, prominent installations of art are displayed in the library. The main piece is called Golden Alchemy and consists of 90 glass orbs, most golden, suspended above the main seating circle. The artist, Ann Skibska, was part of the design planning team, along with the architects and librarians. ("Appaloosa Library: Anna," n.d.)

Mayme Kratz’s "Shedding Light", is a sculpture of "chunks of fractured amber resin and containing sketches and bits of nature" ("On the PL Road:," 2010). In the future a 10 foot long brushed steel sculpture by artist Gary Slater is ebing donated by architect Douglas Sydnor and his family ("Scottsdale Municipal/portable Work," 2010). It will be installed in teh meeting room (Jones, personal communication, June 3, 2010).

The design team considered issues of sustainability when crafting a plan for maintenance of the library. Air vents and automatic door closers prevent cleaning fumes out of occupied areas. Filters work to maintain air quality. The desert dust was addressed: "the City maintains the entry mat, which stops dust at the door" (Jones, 2010). To ensure that the space and systems are doing the jobs they were designed to do, a "comfort survey" will take place a year after the library’s opening.

Architectural Team
Appaloosa Public Library, lounge, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Jason A Steele, 2010; Used with permission.

Two architects worked hand-in-hand to realize the vision of Appaloosa: Jeremy Jones of DWL Architects and Douglas Sydnor of DSAA.

Jeremy Jones, AIA, LEED AP, VP, is also the architect for the Foothills Branch Library and Midwestern College, both in Glendale, AZ, the Mesa Arts Center, and the Arizona State Archives Building. He is the Director of Design and Executive Vice-President of DWL Architect + Planners. He says of his design philosophy, "In the mist of this fragile rock garden, ardent designers impose order, crystallize philosophical structure, and form their Desert Architecture...True Desert Architecture balances at the point where a thoughtful interior confronts the desert and a new place exists in harmony" ("Arizona architects medal," 2007, p. 4).

Douglas Sydnor, president of Douglas Sydnor Architect & Associates, aims to create "poetic and inspiring architecture" and has won multiple design awards for doing so ("About us," 2007). He has designed Scottsdale’s Main Street mixed-use development, banks, theatres and worked on many joint association projects. He is native to the Scottsdale area. Sydnor published a book on Scottsdale architecture in 2010.

Most of the Appaloosa team members are LEED Accredited Professionals.
Architectural Design Staff included:
Jeremy Jones, Douglas Sydnor and Adam Sprenger
Scottsdale Public Library Staff
Scottsdale Planning Department
DWL Architects + Planners, Inc.: Architect of Record
Douglas Sydnor Architect and Associates: Team Architectural Associate
LSW Engineers: Mechanical Electrical Plumbing Engineering
Paragon Structural Design, Inc.: Engineering
GBwo Landscape Architecture, Inc, Inc.
Knipp Design Associates, Inc.: Interior Design
Jacobs Engineering: Civil Engineering
Green Ideas: LEED Consultant
Anna Skibska: Public Artist
The building team included:
Haydon Building Corp (CM@Risk): Arthur Oldham, Project Manager; Jack Rose, Superintendent; Fritz Behrhorst, Design Phase Manager
Metal skin/cladding installer: Total Metals LLC
Roofing contractor: Progressive Roofing
Glass subcontractor: Milam Glass Co.
Project Manager: Gary Meyer
Construction Coordinator: Joe Mannino

Other team members included:
Curtain Wall construction: Kawner, Inc.
Scottsdale Public Library; Copyright owner Carlos J. Meyer Photography; Used with permission.

The Vari-cool coating company, PPG Industries
Metal wall panel construction: [[ |Morin]]
Solar panels: Firestone Building Products
Steel roof decking: Verco Manufacturing
(Jones, 2010; Schumacher, 2010)

The critical response to the library has been extremely positive. It was featured as one of American Libraries magazine’s library design showcase in 2010, won the AZRE RED Awards 2010, a Government Honorable Mentions in the ED+C 2010 Excellence in Design Awards.

Bloggers are talking about the library. "So this is where my tax dollars went… this place is nicer than my corporate office...with the exception of the children's area a lot of the shelves look kinda empty" (S., 2010) . Jones states, "when the library just opened...not everything had arrived yet. Apparently nearly 50% of materials are also circulating at anyone time. If the library had to shut down for awhile and all the materials came back, there would be no place to put about 40% of them” (personal communication, June 3, 2010). Scottsdale resident and library volunteer Mark Shimelonis finds the library "striking both on the inside and the outside" (Bui, 2009). Within five weeks of opening, over 9,500 people visited the library and 1,450 new library cards were issued (Corbett, 2009). Overall, use of the Scottsdale Public Library’s collection is up 23%, computer use is up 21% and visitors are up 10%, which may be attributable to the sluggish economy, or the striking new libraries and services being offered (Haldiman, 2010).


The library building project cost 10.65 million dollars, which was paid for by Capital Improvement Project (CIP) bond funds passed in 2000. The initial plan called for 20,000 square feet, but the design team were able to develop another 1200 square feet of space without going over budget, and not counting the patio (Jones, 2010).

Yet funding is a serious issue for this new library. After Scottsdale's libraries faced a 15% budget cut in 2010, it is currently open only 45 hours per week, as opposed to the normal 64 (Haldiman, 2010).. No new staff were hired to man the new library, leaving all the branches short-staffed (Madrid, 2010). Scottsdale has a history of innovative funding and collaborative efforts with their libraries. Palomino library is a joint-use facility with a high school. Before it's rebuild in 2007, Arabian Branch was also a joint-use facility that included a middle and elementary school as well as a police office (Goldberg, 1995). However, the public use of the shared school facilities is low, intergovernmental sharing is extremely challenging, and school and public library missions are quite different, leading to the city scrapping the joint-use model that Appaloosa Branch might also have been developed within (Hamilton, n.d.).

In May of 2009, Palomino Branch was nearly closed, possibly to allow for funds to staff the new Appaloosa, and possibly because the joint-use model was not functioning as well as planned (Roberts, 2009). Arguments over how to fund libraries and the point of opening new libraries hover over the new Appaloosa Branch, as over many library systems in an economic downturn. Scottsdale Library Director Rita Hamilton clarifies what Scottsdale's libraries are for: "Books are our brand, and they remain at the heart of what we do...But today, libraries are also community centers, places where you find a range of services, spaces, and programs, and where everyone is welcome." (Levinson, 2008).

Contact Information

Senior Coordinator: Yvonne Murphy

P.O. Box 1000
7377 E. Silverstone Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85255


Scottsdale Public Library
SPL on Facebook
SPL Friends
DSAA Architects
DWL Architects + Planners
City of Scottsdale
[[ |Haydon Building Corp.]]
AZRE RED award video
Appaloosa in hard times video
Green building in Scottsdale
Scottsdale architecture tours


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Appaloosa Public Library, floorplan, Scottsdale, AZ; Copyright holder: Jeremy Jones; Used with permission.