The Book Garden

Reading, Resources and Resiliency

JENSEN reimagines a municipal library as a civic space that builds community resiliency—and generates more energy than it uses.

The Question

Since 2011, the Architecture at Zero competition, presented by Pacific Gas and Electric Company and AIA California, has invited architects and engineers worldwide to investigate new approaches to the design of zero net energy (ZNE) buildings—buildings that generate more energy than they use. The program for 2020 considers a ZNE community library for San Benito County, a largely rural area reaching across miles of Central California agricultural lands. With the expansion of retail and other enterprises in the area, this multicultural community has grown four-fold since its existing library was built in 1960. Jensen’s competition-winning proposal poses a larger question: With the prospect of more social, cultural and environmental changes on the horizon, how can a library provide the most far reaching benefits for the community it serves?

Aerial perspective
Community Plaza and library main entry
Preliminary sketches
Site Plan with rooftop gardens

More than a Library

Jensen’s proposal for the site embraces the library’s expanding role as a community hub. A weave of pavilions and gardens, built with cross-laminated timber and wrapped in a translucent skin, comfortably holds the library’s multitude of services and provides for a spectrum of settings, from climate-controlled media labs and historical archives to outdoor meeting spaces. The effect is inviting and uplifting: an open, inclusive facility where the county’s diverse community finds sustaining resources to support an array of needs and long-term aspirations. A place fully dedicated to community service, the library also can transform, should the need arise, into a self-sufficient, disaster recovery center.

Historic Archive Tower
Children’s Library
Main entry and Courtyard
Library main entry
Wellness Center Multipurpose Room

Beyond Net Zero

A holistic approach leverages passive, active, and renewable strategies to push the library’s impact beyond ZNE performance. Working with Atelier Ten and Engineering 350 the team identified opportunities to reduce conditioned area and increase connection to the outdoors. A double-skin facade with operable bi-fold screens modulates natural air flows and daylight to keep spaces climatically comfortable inside. Like the facade, the rooftop trellises and the courtyard’s translucent roof incorporate photovoltaic panels; together they temper the sun’s heating effects while generating enough electricity to operate the building’s LED lighting, radiant heating, heat recovery system and other building systems. Like much of Jensen’s work, low-tech compliments high-tech, indoors blends with the outdoors, and people from all corners of the community are embraced.

Sustainability Diagram
High-performance facade details
Spectrum of conditioned spaces
South facade with polycarbonate double-skin and bi-fold screen

Multiplying Moves

Every aspect of the design contributes multiple benefits. The collection of volumes relates more readily to the surrounding residential neighborhood, and allows different departments to easily keep separate hours of operation, enhancing flexibility. The heart of the library is the courtyard auditorium, a covered, open-air public space nested into the lower level. It’s a place for active programs and events as well as a gracious circulation link; and a place to gather with friends or contemplate the three-story-tall vitrine of the Historical Museum Collection. Rooftop gardens connect visitors with respite and fresh air, while insulating the building and collecting rainwater water for reuse.

Courtyard Auditorium with reading rooms above
Courtyard Auditorium with Historic Archive Tower
Rooftop Garden with PV canopy
Elevated Gardens
San Benito County Free Library


Architects Newspaper, "AIA California announces winners of ninth annual net-zero design competition," June 2020


Project Leads
Mark Jensen
Steven Huegli
Emily Gosack
Jonny Rohrbaugh
Project Team
Hyona Lim
Sean Niu
Yun Gao


Energy Analysis
Atelier Ten
Engineering 350
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