The Putney Public Library got its start when a few townspeople collected some books and put them in a private home. The year was 1793. After moving to Town Hall in 1896 and then to its own building in 1967, the library moved into a brand new building in December 2004. Local architect, Phil Bannister, designed the 3,500 sq. ft., hip roof, barn-like structure. The timberframe was designed, engineered, and crafted at the Bensonwood® shop in nearby Walpole, New Hampshire, and then erected and covered with prebuilt structural roof and wall panels by the Bensonwood "Beam Team."
Located in Southern Vermont, Putney is a small town filled with artisans, craftspeople, writers, and musicians. Raising the necessary capital to build the warm, naturally lit, and elegantly crafted structure that Bannister wanted to build, would be a challenge.
Turning to Timbers
"We didn't start out thinking about using a timberframe because of cost considerations," Bannister said. However Mike McKenzie, a Putney resident active in the local arts community, felt that a timberframe library would accomplish several objectives. His experience working with Bensonwood on the design of the timberframe chamber music hall adjacent to the library, convinced him that "Bensonwood had the people, the experience, and the efficiency to control costs." And, he knew that a timberframe library could be a dramatic structure that would be in keeping with the artistic nature of the town.
"Early in the project, I visited with Bensonwood engineers," Bannister said. "We brainstormed ways to build a timberframe structure that was not only beautiful, but also very efficient." From there, Bensonwood designed a structure that would meet the budget and created drawings of the timberframe that--along with Bannister's drawings--were used to help raise the necessary funds to complete the building.
The library building is comprised of three main spaces, a central core with two wings. The main library area in the center has a large aisle between bookshelves that is washed in warm, natural light from two large skylights at the ridge. In addition to illuminating the shelves and providing the ideal light in which to read, the skylights highlight the intricate detail and dramatic style of the timberframe joinery supporting the roof, which includes pegged splines and through tenons in the horizontal beams. The tenons travel all the way through mortises in the supporting posts and are retained by cherry wedges. All of the timbers were crafted in Douglas fir, selected for its straight grain and warm color. Wings to the left and right of the main timberframe structure contain a reading room and children's library, respectively.
"We used heavy timbers and highly detailed joinery in the core of the building, where it would be most prominent," said Annette Dey, Bensonwood's lead engineer on the project. Lighter timbers, with basic joinery, were used at the perimeter of the building, along with walls that supported part of the load. This helped keep costs contained, as did the use of conventional framing to build the two wings.
Bensonwood also built and installed the roof panels, as well as wall panels, that covered the timberframe and formed the structure of both wings. The roof panels came from Bensonwood fully insulated and pre finished on the inside, while the wall panels came without insulation or inside finishes, so commercial electrical, plumbing, and mechanicals could easily be installed and inspected.
"One of the things that impressed me about Bensonwood is that they were so willing to pitch in on helping with the capital raising aspects, by joining us so early in the project," Bannister said. "There was lots of back-and-forth with the committee during the design phase and Bensonwood was very accommodating," he said.
Bannister also explained that despite a number of changes, Bensonwood created and assembled the timberframe, the structural insulated roof panels, and the wall panels, for cost quoted in the original estimate. "That's very important, when you're building a community project on a tight budget."