Sept. 22 2010 12:00 AM

Capital Area District Library


Property: Capital Area District Library (Downtown), Lansing.

Every community has a library, the lucky ones have several, but how often do we really take the time to appreciate the buildings? Lansing is blessed with a library that is an architectural landmark designed by local modernist architect Kenneth C. Black.

Completed in 1964, the Clarence H. Rosa Public Library is one of Lansing’s premier mid-century buildings. A modernist jeweled box decorated in the latticed quartz insignias of eight American publishers. The roughly 75,000-square-foot building features the hallmarks of mid-century modern style, including simplicity of form and decoration. “Lansing residents identify with the building — it is modern and unique,” Capital Area District Library Director Lance Werner said.

The library’s sunken plaza to the west and Japanese-style East Garden are characteristic of the modernist style. Accessible from the east end of the children’s reading room, the Japanese garden is a truly remarkable feature of the library. But of course, according to Werner, “the real treasure is inside.”

It is rare for a public library to have a public garden. It’s even more rare to have a Japanese one.

During the mid-century modern period, spanning from the early-1930s to mid-1960s, the Japanese aesthetic, both art and architecture, was hugely influential. Many Michigan-based modern architects embraced the Japanese aesthetic in their own designs including Alden B. Dow of Midland, Norman F. Carver of Kalamazoo and Kenneth C. Black of Lansing.

Not only did these architects incorporate the Japanese style into the structural and aesthetic building design but they also utilized landscaping, as seen in Japanese Zen Gardens. Alden B. Dow’s home and studio included thirteen acres styled after Zen Gardens. Although it is surprising that the Clarence H. Rosa Public Library design incorporated a garden, a Japanese garden was entirely in keeping with the modernist architecture and sensibilities of the architect, Kenneth C. Black.

The garden serves as a place of quiet serenity within downtown. Enclosed within high garden walls and filled with exotic vegetation, the East Garden is an unexpected, albeit underutilized, tranquil oasis. Few too many Lansing residents know of the garden and even fewer ever take the time to visit. According to head librarian Kathy Johnson, the Japanese Garden is a not-to-be-missed feature of the library. Take time to visit at your earliest convenience — you may find it a routine destination.

“Eye candy of the Week" is our weekly look at some of the nicer properties in Lansing. It rotates each week with Eyesore of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail or call Andy Balaskovitz at 371-5600 ex. 17.