MATERIAL FOCUS: Des Moines Public Library

Des Moines Public Library, Des Moines, Iowa
David Chipperfield Architects, United Kingdom
Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture, Des Moines

Des Moines Public Library
Photography: Farshid Assassi
Photo courtesy of

There’s a difference between invention and innovation.  Prometheus stole fire from the gods facilitating human progress and civilization.  What did he get in return?  Tied to a rock by Zeus, who sent an eagle to eat his liver each day, only to have it grow back the next so the eagle could eat it again.  He was immortal.  His punishment?  Eternal. Prometheus was inventive in his theft of fire and gift to mankind.  Zeus was innovative in his application of eagle as torture and liver as punishment.

When I first sat down to research innovative building materials, I thought dammit!  I can’t find anything about any new building materials.  Innovation in the 21st century my ass.  Well, turns out I misunderstood what it was I was I thought I was searching for.  I was looking for invention in a sea of innovation.

Once my path had been corrected, I came upon the Des Moines Public Library.  Designed by UK based David Chipperfield Architects, the library features what I would consider to be an innovative application of two otherwise common everyday building materials ­– wood and glass – to form an exterior glazed paneling system capable of enhancing thermal gain and reducing glare while maintaining visual transparency and sight lines. Manufactured by German based Okalux, the skin of the library is made from a composite triple-glazing system with a slight twist, an expanded copper mesh layer mounted in-between the exterior and middle sheets of glass.

The system isn’t entirely unique, it certainly doesn’t re-invent the wheel, and it could probably be argued that there are far better examples of innovative applications for glass and metal.  But, it stands as a pretty good reminder that if you’re looking for innovation, you don’t have to steal from the gods.

R. H. Holley


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