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Seven Trees and Bascom
Open new libraries

Seven Trees & Bascom branch libraries in San Jose showcase forward-thinking design
seven trees ANGLING FOR ATTENTION: The new Seven Trees Library features some dynamic window and wall lines.

Deep in southeastern San Jose, where Senter Road crashes into Monterey Highway, just steps from the archaic Capitol Expressway interchange, the Seven Trees Branch Library is now open, and the building is a modern, progressive complex. The library itself occupies the second floor, while on the ground level, one can find a gym, a community center, a banquet/meeting room and several inviting spaces for people to hang out.

Inside the complex, the first noticeable attribute is the light. Much of the architecture incorporates large, floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing natural daylight to flood the place. For lack of another word, one gets an "airy" feel. Seniors congregate; kids run around everywhere; light pours in from various oddball directions; and there's an alcove selling used books. That's just on the ground level, as the whole place has a town-square kind of feel to it.

Up on the second story, in the library itself, the light also pours in. One side has wide-pan views of the playground and the fields behind the elementary school next door. Particular trees that were removed from the site during construction are now part of the artwork and the structures in the playground, including sculptures and a shade armature.

Rainwater is recycled and used for irrigation; motion sensors reduce the need for constant indoor lighting; and energy use is much less than required by code. All in all, the building received USGBC (United States Green Building Council) LEED Gold Certification, a status for projects that excel in specific areas like water efficiency, materials, resources, energy and indoor environmental quality.

Local artists Sam Rodriguez and Matt Rodriguez (no relation) created the artwork that occupies the floor just inside the library's entrance. Titled Potential, the piece is a large, fabricated pseudo-model-kit put together with metal, polycarbonate and custom bicycle parts—wheels, chains, frames, spokes, a seat and various pieces of handlebars. It forms a bridge between the entryway and the children's area.

Unfolding as a series of frosted panels, the work, as a whole, illuminates all the different components that come together when making a custom bicycle from salvaged parts—precisely what the two artists already do for a living.

Also, the two Rodriguezes actually worked in tandem with the architect and the library's design team. Potential matches the color scheme of the floor and the shelves, plus it draws attention to ideas of creativity, engineering and fabrication. The piece has a clean industrial look and leads visitors straight into the children's sections. This is inspiring, because in other scenarios, historically, the architect was clueless or brain-dead as to what actually goes on inside a library—how the stacks should be distributed, how the space should be used or how many tons of concrete were absolutely necessary, solely for his own ego.

But I digress. All in all, the two Rodriguez collaborators have created a work that is just as much a part of the interior environment as the books are. It showcases the "potential" of curiosity, inventiveness and creating art from the surrounding garbage. You look at this thing, in its simplicity, and you just want to start tinkering with stuff.

A view of the building from outside is similarly refreshing. The complex is modern, prevailing, up-to-date and forward-looking. All that and they didn't need a repulsive concrete freeway interchange, a hideous parking garage butting up against the sidewalk or a homogeneous residential high-rise in order to buff up the politicians' egos. The building works, inside and outside. It actually feels and looks like a modern neighborhood center.

Seven Trees is not the only new library on the horizon, of course. The brand-new Bascom branch is slotted for a Feb. 23 grand opening at the parcel formerly occupied by Quement Electronics, for decades the ham radio capital of the San Jose universe. The new artwork seems to reference some of what came before in the area, although they should have made a bow to Murray's Bar across the street (which is no longer there). But I'll cut them some slack; that library, as well, will be a boon for the neighborhood.