Resting high in a valley north of Yellowstone National Park, Billings, Montana, is home to just 100,000 people, making it the size of many neighborhoods in urban centers. But while the city may not be sizable enough to host our country’s greatest architecture, it does have the Billings Public Library, which offers a healthy environment for the community and is tracking LEED Platinum certification.
The city worked for years to get the library built, finally succeeding thanks to a benefactor, anonymous to this day, who contributed $2 million. “His only stipulation was that he wanted to be involved in the selection of the architect and the exterior architecture,” says Richard Jensen, principal of WORKSBUREAU, whose predecessor, Will Bruder + Partners, won the job after a public selection process.
The city, which is known for being fiscally conservative, wanted an energy-efficient building, and to that end, sought LEED certification. But Jensen and his team took the idea a step further. “We think of sustainability in two ways, both in terms of what’s on the LEED checklist and additional things that aren’t,” he says.
A major element of sustainability that can’t be quantified by LEED, Jensen explains, is good design. “Unappealing buildings are a commodity, and people are happy to see them go,” he says. “But there’s a public pride taken in projects that are well designed, and that leads to them being revered and cared for over time, which is, in itself, sustainable.”
The library, which had been operating in a hardware warehouse along an abandoned railroad track, opened 20 feet away from its former location in early 2014. “They moved through a hole they cut in the backside of their building,” Jensen says. “It only took two days.”