North Portland Library

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The North Portland Library has served the community for over a century from its location in the heart of a historically Black neighborhood that remains one of the most diverse in the city. Thanks to Multnomah County voters, this historic Carnegie-era library is being gently renovated and thoughtfully expanded, preserving its legacy as a community hub for generations to come.

LEVER, together with Multnomah County Library and Noll & Tam Architects, lead a responsive design process guided by community input. The rigorous engagement effort encompassed over 75 meetings, including large public events, focus groups, interviews with community leaders, and a youth design cohort. The library's design, reflecting community feedback, features a vibrant new addition that will house the Black Cultural Center, a flexible new addition dedicated Black culture, history, and creativity. In keeping with community priorities, the historic library’s character is preserved and updated in ways that help it meet contemporary needs including new lounge areas, an expanded children’s area, updated flex spaces with increased seating and work areas, and an accessible outdoor walkway with garden seating. 

The library design team facilitated 75+ meetings and events to gather community feedback, including pop-ups at the King Farmer's Market (above) and the inaugural Reclaiming Black Joy event (right).

If the library is the community’s living room, the Black Cultural Center (BCC) is its social heart. The community vision for the BCC imagines an active multipurpose space that honors the Black community's history in the neighborhood and creates a vibrant, flexible venue for highlighting Black storytelling and creativity. Its location and expansive windows provide passersby with a clear view into the library, inviting the neighborhood in and making events visible. This vision is further realized through the inclusion of interior furniture by Black designers Ini Archibong and Mac Collins.

The landscape design maximizes a small site to introduce an accessible new walkway with outdoor seating. This approach replaces manicured hedges and grass with native and edible plants, offering a landscape that is wilder and more interactive, thereby removing a symbolic barrier between the building and the neighborhood. There is also a new deck that connects the children's area to the BCC through a rear garden. The design thoughtfully preserves the mature elm and European chestnut trees encircling the library. Given their rarity, the elms are notable, and the library's chestnuts have turned into an annual destination for elders from North Portland's Asian American communities.