Construction starts on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library by Snøhetta and Clark Nexsen

Queen City

Construction starts on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library by Snøhetta and Clark Nexsen

The forthcoming Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina by Snøhetta and Clark Nexsen features parametric curves inspired by the site’s topographical history. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Libraries are in Snøhetta’s wheelhouse. The firm’s first major commission came in 1989 when Snøhetta’s founders designed Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt. The project helped earn the office international recognition, and more library commissions in Calgary, Canada; Beijing; Rotterdam; Philadelphia at Temple University; Raleigh, North Carolina; Westchester, The Bronx; and their forthcoming Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, North Dakota.

Earlier this month, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina hosted a “demolition celebration” to inaugurate construction on the new Snøhetta-designed Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the city’s main library branch. Clark Nexsen, a local Charlotte firm, is the architect of record. The library is eponymously named after the city’s namesake Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who ruled over Great Britain and Ireland in the late-1700s.

The new library will connect with the renovated McGlohon and Duke Energy Theaters adjacent to the site. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

“We wanted to celebrate this demolition to mark the start of a new beginning in Uptown Charlotte,” said Marcellus Turner, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO, at the ceremony. “From the café to the community living room and the technology hub to the destination reading room, the new Main Library will be an inviting place to learn, grow and engage with others in our community.”

Snøhetta first unveiled designs for the forthcoming 5-story, 115,000-square-foot library in Charlotte’s bustling North Tryon corridor in 2019, following a two-year long design period. The library building uses elegant geometries inspired by the site’s topographical history. According to the architects, it “generates views in a variety of directions and as a convergence point for community and culture.” Located on a prominent corner site at the intersection of Tryon and Sixth Street, two main arteries, the building’s various glass sections open interiors to the street. 

Side view (Courtesy Snøhetta)
(Courtesy Snøhetta)

At present, the city of Charlotte has twenty-one branch libraries spread throughout the city that gather 3.4 million visitors per year. Its new main library seeks to double as both a learning center and public commons. The enterprise is partially backed by funding from Mecklenburg County and the Knight Foundation, a philanthropic group. 

New renderings depict the curved atrium anchored around a custom-designed staircase and seating areas that rise between all five floors. Architects from Clark Nexsen note that the new library will connect with the renovated McGlohon and Duke Energy Theaters adjacent to the site, allowing for library and theater programming to take place in evening hours. The ground level features a public art wall that invites local and national artists to display works. 

The library features an atrium that spans all five floors connected to seating areas. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

The second floor hosts a welcome and orientation center for new Mecklenburg residents, a job training center, counseling services space, and a makers lab fitted with computers, a digital visualization center, and recording studio. The third floor is for researchers and writers while the fourth floor will host the revamped Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, as well as the library’s special collections, an immersive theater, and staff space. The fifth floor hosts the library’s main reading room and an outdoor terrace that offers a scenic view of Tryon Street, what the architects call “the first public rooftop space in Uptown Charlotte.” 

“Libraries are more popular today than they have ever been, serving a wider range of needs than access to books only,” said Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta. “Charlotte’s new library will lead the way in showing how a city and its core of knowledge can be open, welcoming, and intriguing for decades to come.” 

Previously, Clark Nexsen first teamed up with Snøhetta to design the James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is set for completion in spring 2026.