The Central Library Turns 15

Central Turns 15

On April 8, 2006, the Des Moines Public Library turned the page on a new chapter in its history. The Central Library was relocated downtown in a brand new building, located at 1000 Grand Avenue. This month, that building turns 15 years old.

The original Central Library was opened in 1903 at 100 Locust Street, right along the Des Moines River. Nearly a century later, it was agreed that the building was no longer meeting the needs of the community. It was not handicap accessible in many areas, maintenance in the old building was becoming an issue, and most of all, the building was just too small.

A new site was selected on the western end of downtown, in what became known as the Western Gateway. London architect David Chipperfield was selected to design the project, and construction began in 2002.

The building has some very distinctive feature. During the day, the copper mesh panels placed between window panes is clearly visible, even reflecting sunlight on bright days. The first building in the world to use such panels, the copper significantly reduces UV radiation, projecting books and improving energy efficiency. When on the inside, the windows are clear, providing daylight to nearly every part of the building. There are 355 window panels in the building, each weighing 1400 pounds.

David Chipperfield

Sir David Chipperfield

Another notable feature is one you can’t see from the ground. The Central Library has a green roof covering the entirety of the building. The green roof provides installation and controls water runoff with its ability to retain more than 187,000 gallons of water.

The new Central Library, along with the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and an expansion of Meredith Corporation’s headquarters, have often been credited with revitalizing the western part of downtown Des Moines. The old Main Library was able to gain a facelift as well, as the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates moved in in 2009. That building now hosts international dignitaries and world class performers as part of its annual Laureate Award Ceremony, including Ray Charles, John Denver, and Leslie Odom, Jr., of Hamilton fame.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Library is not hosting any programs celebrating the building’s 15th anniversary. However, there will be a few displays at Central throughout the month of April. On the library’s first floor, there are plans for the original scale model of the Central Library to be on display. It will include a timeline, photos of construction, and information about what buildings were on this block before the Central Library was built. The main stairwell will have an outline of the building and some facts about its construction. With the library open for full hours, we invite you to come take a look!

Central Library by the Numbers
  • 15 - Age of Central Library, in years
  • 110,000 - Square feet of the building
  • 1903 - Year the original Main Library opened
  • 355 - Number of high-efficiency window panels on the building
  • 1,400 - Weight, in pounds, of each panel
  • 30 - Percent less energy used than a conventional building
  • 32.3 - Cost, in millions of dollars, to construct Central
Published on April 01, 2021
Last Modified April 14, 2021