Library of Congress Gives Hillside Bunker a New Use
The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center opens in Culpeper, Va.; facility to preserve collection of moving pictures and sound recordings
How do you . . . adaptively reuse and expand an existing structure into a state-of-the-art preservation and storage facility?
Summary: The newly completed Library of Congress Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, located on the hillside of Mount Pony in Culpeper, Va., is now open to the public. Set on a 45-acre campus, the 415,000-square-foot Packard Campus gives new life to an immense bunker once used by the Federal Reserve to house currency while doing double duty as a potential hideaway for government officials in case of a nuclear attack. Two new buildings were added to the reused bunker.
The Packard Campus—which will provide underground vault storage for the nation’s collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts, and sound recordings—was created through a partnership between the Packard Humanities Institute, the U.S. Congress, the Library of Congress, and the Architect of the Capitol. The architect of record for the project was Washington, D.C.-based SmithGroup. The consulting design architect responsible for the main conservation building was San Francisco-based BAR Architects. Fairfax, Va.-based DPR was the general contractor, and Annandale, Va.-based SMC Concrete served as the concrete subcontractor.
The Classical Packard Campus facility is built into the side of Mount Pony in Culpeper, Va., southwest of Washington, D.C. The site was once a 140,000-square-foot underground bunker carved into the mountain hillside. The Packard Humanities Institute, led by David Packard (son of the founder of Hewlett-Packard), purchased Mount Pony in 1997. Packard, who has a personal interest in film and sound preservation, renovated and expanded the facility into the $150 million National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. He transferred the complex to the Library of Congress on July 26.
The Library of Congress will use the Packard campus to store its entire moving image and sound collection of 6.3 million items, from films to LPs. The collection will be cataloged, preserved, and made available to the public. Many of the audio files will become digitized. Thirty-five climate-controlled vaults will store sound recording, non-flammable film, and videotape, while an additional 124 climate-controlled vaults will store flammable cellulose nitrate film that was discontinued in 1953. The site will also have a 206-seat Art Deco theater, state-of-the-art projection booth, and a listening auditorium.
Library of Congress needed more room
“For the last 20 years, the Library of Congress had been running out of room,” says Gregory Lukow, chief of the motion picture broadcasting and recorded sound division at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. “In 1993, the Federal Reserve bank and bunker at Mount Pony were decommissioned. We thought it could make a good adaptive reuse as a storage facility for the Library’s audio and video collections. Congress passed a law in 1997 to allow David Packard and his foundation to acquire the property and develop it as a gift to the government.”
Lukow says the scope of the project kept growing from early on. “We realized this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, not just to convert an existing building into analog collection storage, but also to rethink the library’s collection activities. We wanted to make it available to the public and for long-term preservation. All of that led to adaptive reuse of the bunker and construction of two additional buildings, with construction of vaults for collection storage.”
The facility originally opened in 1969 as part of the Federal Reserve bank system. “It had two purposes,” explains Lukow. “One was to store $3 billion of currency to repump the economy in the event of a nuclear holocaust, and the second was as a place to which members of the Federal Reserve bank could flee in case of a nuclear attack.” Lukow says it had the biggest vault he had ever seen. The bunker also featured large steel doors that would close down over impact-resisting glazing in the event of an invasion. Both the vault and doors, however, had to be removed for the adaptive reuse.
A classical, green complex built into a hillside
SmithGroup’s Hal Davis, FAIA, collaborated with Bob Arrigoni, FAIA, of BAR Architects on repurposing the existing underground bunker. “We stripped it down to the frame,” says Davis. “Originally we planned for 200,000 square feet in the existing building, but as David Packard looked at the size of the library’s collection, we expanded to 415,000 square feet.” This meant the addition of two buildings that would connect with each other and the existing bunker. In addition, David Packard, a Classics professor, wanted the buildings to have a look and texture of classical buildings.
The reused underground building became the collections building and central hub, with an expansion space on the top level. It connects to the conservation laboratory building, a multilevel glass and concrete semi-circular building of staggered tiers and terraces formed by concrete beam and column openings. “The semicircular building has stepped-back indentations into the hillside,” says Davis. Archival work and preservation takes place in this structure. On its tiers are exposed vines and native plants to make the structure look like a green hillside. It’s the only above-ground building and has large glass windows to allow for natural light. The building overlooks a green campus below that has a walkway, native plantings, and a small basin. “It’s a dramatic terrace façade that is quite stunning,” enthuses Lukow. “It can be seen from below the hillside and from the distance.”
To the left of the semicircular building sits the underground facility of 124 nitrate- film blast vaults. The public, however, does not have access to this building. “The nitrate film must be stored in fire-code-specific vaults separate from all other audio and video media,” explains Lukow. To keep the vaults and the nitrate at a constant humidity level so the nitrate will not deteriorate, Davis and his team developed a system that returns dampened air into the compartmentalized vaults.
SmithGroup also worked with California-based landscape architects SWA on the vines and green roofs for the underground buildings. “We wanted the campus not to be too woody,” states Davis. “In the wintertime, the leaves will actually fall off to create a web of vines growing across the building, and in the spring it will become green vine again. We also have 200,000 square feet of green roof on the building with an assortment of native plants.”
The challenge of the double pour and waterproofing
Davis and Packard decided that they wanted a lot of exposed architectural concrete to match the Classical look Packard desired. “The mix on the existing concrete has some interesting aggregate in it, but it was cool in terms of tonality,” notes Davis. “I suggested adding different sands and aggregates for a warmer tonality.”
Peter Whitehead, AIA, project manager, SMC Concrete, says that David Packard “preferred the look of poured in place concrete over something like precast panels for the finish because poured in place would be closer to the rough finish look of a classical building. The outer concrete was then sandblasted to expose the warmer color of the aggregate and give it a rustic, but not-too-rough look.” Every exposed piece of concrete, both inside and outside, was sandblasted for the final finish. “Mountains of sand had to be removed at the end of the project. It was an exhaustive and time consuming process,” explains Whitehead.
The semi-circular lab building required double, poured in place concrete walls—sandwich walls in essence—which presented a construction challenge. “The buildings uncharacteristically called for a poured in place structural wall and a separate poured in place finish wall,” Whitehead says. Excess condensation between the double walls also presented a concern because of the strict temperature and humidity needed to protect the film. Moisture drainage and a very controlled waterproofing application was crucial to prevent the insulation from becoming saturated, as well as to prevent water migration into the interior.
Whitehead says that the base upon which the waterproofing was to be applied had to be smooth enough to allow the waterproofing to stick. “Pouring the exterior layer of the sandwich panel had to wait until the waterproofing and insulation was applied and dried to the inner structural walls in this unusual construction method. This double-pour process extended time for construction over typical poured in place structural and precast finish by a factor of at least two. But a spirit of collaboration and cooperation during the initial project meetings set the tone for dynamics in the construction phase and made the project successful.”
A measure of success
Davis says that Packard was pleased with the overall outcome of the Packard campus. “He said it was more beautiful than he had hoped it would be.” Davis, Packard, and the design team met with the staff working in the building. “We all hope when we build buildings that the people who occupy them really enjoy them. It was really a pleasure for all of us to meet with staff to hear them say that they love the building enough that they can stay after hours. They like the daylight, the exposure, and views. It has greatly enhanced their feel about their work place, which I think is always a measure of success.”