St. Helena Branch Library at Penn Center

6. October 2014

St. Helena Branch Library at Penn Center
2012
St. Helena, South Carolina

Client
Beaufort County, South Carolina

Architect
Liollio Architecture
Charleston, SC

Design Principal
C. Dinos Liollio, AIA, LEED AP

Project Architects
Jennifer Charzewski, AIA, LEED AP
Angie Brose, AIA, LEED AP 

Project Manager
Jay White, AIA, LEED AP

Structural Engineer
Moulton, Clemson, Jones

MEP/FP Engineer
RMF, Inc.

Landscape Architect
JK Tiller & Associates

Interior Designer
Liollio Architecture

Contractor
Choate, Inc.

Cultural Anthropologist
Nichole Green

Site Area
6 acres

Building Area
23,000 sf

Photographs
Richard Leo Johnson Photography

Drawings
Liollio Architecture

Not many architects can boast of having a cultural anthropologist on its team when designing a building, but when it came time for Liollio Architecture to tackle the design of a library for the residents of St. Helena Island in South Carolina, they brought one on board to help understand the Gullah Geechee culture. With the insight they designed a modern facility with unique touches (tree columns, woven nautilus) that taps into the island's unique context. The architects answered some questions about the library.

Exterior front

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

This was a design/bid/build project advertised as an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) by Beaufort County, SC. Respondents were shortlisted, interviewed and the project was awarded to Liollio.

Exterior front

Please provide an overview of the project.

Modern, yet warm, the architecture reflects the unique attributes of Gullah-Geechee Sea Island culture and the vibrancy of the library as a 21st century gathering place. Prior to design, community workshops were held to gain insight into the context of the Gullah Geechee culture. The building was designed to utilize very simple forms and construction methods in order to afford the iconic features that symbolize the shared values of the library and St. Helena community.

Entrance gallery

The Gullah-Geechee context is revealed in the architecture, including the woven nautilus of the special collections area located at the heart of the library, suggesting the forms of marine life and traditional net making; raised wood "stomping" floor in the community meeting room that provides the percussion for sea island spirituals; and the "tree" columns reflective of historic images of learning at Penn Center under the massive live oak trees.

Meeting room

What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

This project brings Gullah-Geechee cultural heritage to life and creates a new hub for the community.

Gullah Geechee Room

To what extent did the clients and/or future users of the building influence the design and the outcome of the building?

Sustaining the local culture and traditions was imperative in our design effort. Prior to design, community meetings were held at Penn Center to probe the depths of the Gullah-Geechee and Sea Island Community so the design could make subtle and sincere references to a unique culture and place.

Media center

How would you describe the architecture of South Carolina and how does the building relate to it?

Intimately connected to the landscape and cultures of the South, this building reflects the unique Low country landscape and sea island cultural heritage.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Children's media center
Exterior side view
Exterior side entrance
Gulah Geechee room diagram

St. Helena Branch Library at Penn Center
2012
St. Helena, South Carolina

Client
Beaufort County, South Carolina

Architect
Liollio Architecture
Charleston, SC

Design Principal
C. Dinos Liollio, AIA, LEED AP

Project Architects
Jennifer Charzewski, AIA, LEED AP
Angie Brose, AIA, LEED AP 

Project Manager
Jay White, AIA, LEED AP

Structural Engineer
Moulton, Clemson, Jones

MEP/FP Engineer
RMF, Inc.

Landscape Architect
JK Tiller & Associates

Interior Designer
Liollio Architecture

Contractor
Choate, Inc.

Cultural Anthropologist
Nichole Green

Site Area
6 acres

Building Area
23,000 sf

Photographs
Richard Leo Johnson Photography

Drawings
Liollio Architecture

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