Retail/Hospitality/Commercial Housing Under 10,000 Square Feet – Judge’s Merit: Diversity and Inclusion Award –

Firm: Vela Creative
Designer(s): Kimberly Scanlon, ASID
Project Name: Reading Room

Project Statement

The ultimate goal of our client was to make Black dignity visible through history, empowerment, access to a wide variety of reading materials, and shared cultural and artistic programming. Owned by a nonprofit whose goal is to have a positive impact in a multi-racial society – the project was funded entirely via donations, and it is located on the ground floor of a new affordable housing building in St. Paul. Communicating a message of inclusivity and perseverance, and anchored by the history of the Pullman Porters, the space incubates a sense of belonging and creates a connection between local labor history and modern civil rights issues.

CLIENT OBJECTIVES: Strict (low) budget, accessible for all, aesthetic appealing for all ages/generations, flexibility in use of space to accommodate different group needs.

SOLUTIONS: Incorporated unique elements that stayed within the budget without sacrificing style (exposed concrete floor with acid etching to create a natural visual texture, open ceiling with track lighting to balance openness and intimacy, window graphics that reflect on the floor for a constantly changing space). Focused on the ties to the railroad history, with custom millwork and brick created to be reminiscent of a train station. Utilized local sources whenever possible, including the reclaimed wood and oxidized metal bookshelves, the vintage suitcase donation box feature, and the artwork lining the room. Utilized eco-friendly products with recycled content and indoor air certifications. Created adequate space for maneuvering a wheelchair, and ensured the donation box and many bookshelves were in accessible reach. Blended traditional and modern aesthetics to appeal to all ages. Incorporated reading materials for all ages and reading levels. Chose easily rearranged furniture to allow for different uses (e.g. classroom, board meeting, social gathering, leisurely reading time). All artwork is durable, safe to touch and appropriate for all ages.

The end result is a space that speaks to a greater human experience, and to the ties that bind us together. By incorporating Universal Design Principles, we were ableto bring an incredibly important history to life, and connect it to a greater objective: ensuring Black dignity is upheld in the face of injustice – always.