The Minneapolis Central Library is a vibrant learning laboratory rooted by accessibility and inclusivity

Minneapolis, MN, USA

Arising from a collaborative public process, the Minneapolis Central Library knits together the urban fabric of Hennepin County. The heart of a fourteen-branch system, the library reinvigorates the classic grand urban library by making it connected, accessible, and appealing for new generations. The responsive design celebrates the importance of the public and enhances visitors’ experiences by balancing access to materials with dynamic space for community engagement and gathering.

increase in accessible resources
Topped by a metal “wing” that hovers overhead, the library extends beyond the building’s footprint to create a welcoming destination and marker in downtown Minneapolis. 

Connecting through a central Commons 

At the heart of the library is the Commons, a six-story glass atrium that slices through the building, filling it with light and activity. The Commons separates and connects the most accessible elements of the library, such as the reading rooms to the north, and more private offices and storage areas. The intentional separation creates the opportunities for community gathering spaces with food and music while protecting the stacks and promoting highly functional spaces. 

“The building is a spectacular combination of elegance and functionality. It got high marks from the staff from the day we moved in and continues to draw public praise. It is successful as a library, as a premier community gathering place, and as a beautiful asset for the city.” — Kit Hadley, former Library Director, Minneapolis Central Library 
Bridges span the Commons connecting the two sides and linking into stairs and escalators, animating the space that also includes an auditorium, art gallery, bookstore, and café.   
The library puts more materials right at patrons’ fingertips with nearly 100 percent of its collection on open shelves, up from only 15 percent at the previous facility.

Anticipating an expanding public library program

The Minneapolis Central Library serves as a dynamic platform for ever-evolving services through dedicated spaces for specific groups. For example, the New Americans Center offers English classes and workforce training for recent immigrants while Business Services supports job seekers, small business owners, investors, and patent researchers. Up to 40 percent of patrons use the library for business purposes. Intuitive wayfinding signage weaves together these spaces in three languages that can adapt as populations change.

of all construction waste was recycled
Windows vary in scale and depth, and different densities of ceramic fritting depict four Minnesota landscapes: water ripples on the north façade, toward the Mississippi River; birch trees on Nicollet Mall; snow on branches on the south; and prairie grasses on Hennepin Avenue.  

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Associate Architect: Architectural Alliance
  • Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
  • MEP: Eriksen Ellison & Associates

Project Information

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  • Client: Hennepin County Library and City of Minneapolis
  • Size: 353,000 sq. ft. / 32,795 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2006
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 2006, Design Award, AIA Connecticut
  • 2007, Lumen Award Citation, New York Section of the Illuminating Engineering Society
  • 2009, Library Building Award, American Institute of Architects/American Library Association
  • Principal Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO