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Proposed new Boise Main Library is city’s largest cultural investment to date

The new Boise Main Library design calls for a large plaza at the entrance and an Urban Hall (right). Image courtesy of city of Boise.

If completed as planned, the new Boise Main Library will be the second largest and second costliest structure the city has built, after the airport.

The Boise City Council reviewed architect Moshe Safdie’s design for the $80 million library and got an update from Safdie Architects and Boise architects CSHQA on June 26. The public can see the designs at the branch libraries on July 16 at Bown Crossing, July 17 at Cole and Ustick, July 18 at Hillcrest, July 19 at Collister and July 20 at the main library.

Safdie’s concept would cost $103 million, but Safdie said “not insignificant dollars for parking” can be subtracted if the city builds an off-site, 300-space parking garage rather than underground parking.

“I think we need to review the program carefully, see if there are redundancies,” said Safdie, who is based near Boston and designs structures around the world. “We need to prioritize things we really must have over things on the wish list.”

The main reading room at the new Boise Main Library will have a 200-by-50-foot glass “lens wall.” Image courtesy of city of Boise.

The project’s construction manager/general manager, Okland Construction of Salt Lake City, has worked closely with Safdie Architects since the outset to keep designs within budget. Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said costs will become more refined at the next stage of schematic design.

“(The design is) definitely going to change,” Booe said. “We already took the water feature out.”

Booe said the city plans to tap $5 million and likely another $5 million from the existing city capital projects fund with $40 million expected from long-term financing, and potentially a bond. The library intends to raise $18 million from donors. Booe said key donors will be announced in July, said Booe, adding that Mayor David Bieter will meet with another potential donor in Salt Lake City August 14.

“We have invested a lot in parks and infrastructure,” Booe said. “This is the biggest investment in the intellectual and cultural side of the city.”

Safdie Architects won a 120-day, $495,000 contract to produce a conceptual plan. A second contract will be negotiated with Safdie in July for a schematic design, Booe said.

Scalloped roof,  round buildings

Along Eighth Street, the new main library will have staggered walls and all glass walls for the automated storage and retrieval system (far right). Image courtesy of city of Boise.

The main portion of the roof is scalloped, with several slanted portions facing south. The vertical portions face north and have windows.  At the south end of Eighth Street, Safdie decided on glass walls on all three sides for the full height of the automated storage and retrieval system. This is where the library will keep bound periodicals, government documents, its holiday collections, and multiple copies of popular authors.

“You can see it in action,” Safdie said. “I thought it would be fun to see the machine that is sorting and moving materials.”

Booe said the automated storage and retrieval system will save the library 20,000 square feet in space.

The structure, split into three distinct areas, will be 150,000 square feet in all, including a 110,000-square-foot library space; the 21,000-square-foot home for the Boise City Department of Arts And History; and an 18,000-square-foot event space with a capacity of 350.

The event space and Arts and History will be along Capitol Boulevard, with rounded walls.

“I think the events center and Arts & History should have their own identity,” Safdie said. “I want their programs to cohabit with the library but not be swallowed by the library.”

Rooftop gardens are planned atop the events center and Center for Arts and History. Image courtesy of city of Boise.

Arts & History now has about 3,000 square feet at City Hall and 2,000 square feet for storage. The new library will quadruple its space and allow room for its archives and public events, said Terri Schorzman, the department’s director.

Glass walls, entrance plaza

When Safdie scoped out the site earlier in the year, he was determined to orient the library toward the Boise River. The main reading room will have what Safdie describes as a “lens wall” – a 50-foot- tall, roughly 200-foot-wide curved window facing the river. Safdie will employ a shading system to lessen the brightness of the sun.

At the opposite end from the lens wall, Safdie placed the library’s main entrance on River Street, fronted by a 200-by-125-foot outdoor plaza. Facing onto the plaza is another window wall from the Urban Room, a 140-by35-foot space that could have a café, retail space, exhibitions and gatherings.



Safdie lobbied for on-site underground parking, but “we just can’t afford it,” said Booe. Instead, Booe expects to have 40 to 50 on-site surface parking spaces with the bulk of parking in a new, 300-space garage to be built in collaboration with the Capital City Development Corp. about a block  from the library. He said negotiations are underway for a property but would not disclose the location.

Library construction is expected to startin fall 2019 with an opening in early 2022, said Mayor’s Office spokesman Mike Journee.

Moshe Safdie

Safdie Architects is collaborating on the project with Boise-based architecture firm CSHQA.

Other Safdie projects

Moshe Safdie typically designs on a much grander scale than the Boise Main Library. Construction is underway on a Safdie-designed 1.4-million-square-foot project at Singapore’s Changi Airport that will offer 300 shops and eateries, a 130-room hotel and a five-story indoor garden with a suspended bridge and waterfall.

Safdie designed Serena del Mar Hospital alongside a canal in Cartagena, Colombia, that is now under construction. Closer to Boise, he designed the main libraries in Salt Lake City and Vancouver, British Columbia.

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.


  1. Nope! Why? Because the poor tax payers will have to foot the bill! We honestly don’t need a library this damn big or costly.

  2. dessa.francis@publicisna.com

    Exceptional design. This is the kind of high-quality development Boise deserves. Hope it happens!

  3. Beautiful design!