The creative problem-solving space is among 13 libraries being recognized for its design
Author: Matthew Cook
iZone's Norris Piazza

University of Rochester students called for a new space that would facilitate their exploration of ideas for social, cultural, community and economic benefit and provide an environment conducive to collaboration. In the fall of 2018, Rochester gave them the Barbara J. Burger iZone.

A little more than a year after it opened its doors, iZone is being recognized by the American Libraries Association in the American Libraries’ 2019 Library Design Showcase.

“This is an incredible honor, given the sheer number of library renovation and building projects we were up against,” says Mary Ann Mavrinac, vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries. “iZone is a beautiful and highly functional manifestation of user needs. We’re grateful for HOLT Architects’ partnership in creating this important and innovative space.”

In the magazine’s 31st iteration of the showcase, iZone is highlighted among 12 other new and renovated libraries—and the architecture firms that designed them—from the United States and Canada. Honorees are a mix of public, academic, school, and special libraries, whose projects met patrons’ needs in “unique, interesting, and effective ways.”

iZone gives its users a flexible design that offers front- and back-of-house spaces. Ideas take shape in the “back,” where users can engage in private exploration or work in small groups. In the “front,” the Kessler Forum—an amphitheater-style sitting area—and Norris Piazza provide complementary settings to meet with iZone scholars, pitch nascent ideas, conduct research interviews, and garner community support.

Essentially, it’s built to enable discovery and curiosity, says iZone Director Julia Maddox.

“It’s been exciting to see how students use the space in expected and unexpected ways,” says Maddox. “The physical space strays away from conventional academic design, sending the message that this is a place where the normal rules don’t apply.”

That nontraditional and playful nature is why iZone is a preferred teaching space for digital media studies instructor Kristana Textor.

“iZone is a fluid space that positions students to be empowered learners,” says Textor.

While engaging in iZone’s design thinking process, Textor’s students, who are engineers, musicians, programmers, and artists, make use of the space’s modular capabilities. The freedom to move around allows them to control their experience, which naturally generates teamwork and creativity. And that’s exactly what is needed to build dynamic, problem-solving teams, says Textor.

But for Textor, the most critical part of iZone’s design are the staff who support it.

“The space on its own isn’t necessarily enough,” Textor says. “I love that it’s light, airy, and modular, but you need the programming and staff support to help generate creative thinking. Just like iZone, the staff is very fluid and adaptable.

“It’s been great working with Julia and her team because I can go to them with my wonky ideas and lesson plans and cocreate activities that are different from semester to semester. That’s invaluable to me.” ∎

For more information about iZone, its programs, or upcoming events, such as Screw-Up Nights, contact Zoe WisbeyEnjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.