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When an architect listens, the result is a lesson in person-place harmony

Nancy Napier
Nancy Napier

In April 2018, Boise State Public Radio reported that Canadian architect Moshe Safdie would design the new Boise City Library. I was thrilled. I know almost nothing about Safdie, save that I was fortunate enough to tour one of his earlier designs, the Salt Lake City Library, in the early 2000s. Several observations struck me on that visit, and I hope we have the same good experience with our library design.

First, SLC invited several architectural firms to bid on the project. His was the only one that oriented the library with views toward the Wasatch Mountains, not toward the Great Salt Lake. As community members from focus groups with all of the bidding firms said, Safdie’s group listened to us.

Second, when several of us from Boise visited the library, we got onto the elevator with two middle school boys, skateboards in tow. When we asked what they were doing at the library, they said: “Are you kidding? It’s the coolest place in town to hang out after school.” We stood, mouths agape.

Third, the design was unusual, of course, but at the same time very practical, with spaces for parents and children, for outdoor concerts, for video viewing and for working. Because of its spaces and welcoming demeanor (if a building can have a demeanor), it had become, in the 2000s, one of Utah’s top tourist destinations, competing with Bryce Canyon and the Mormon Tabernacle.

So, for reasons like these, I’m excited about having a world-class architect design one of Boise’s core learning and meeting sites. His comments in a radio interview suggested that he realizes the importance of the Boise River to us. “The site itself – it’s hugging the river, so to speak,” he said. “My objective is to embrace it so you will feel in the library that you are literally on the river edge or within the river park.”

It sounds as if he’s already listening to us.

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State.