La Conner Swinomish Library is a cultural and architectural masterpiece in Washington

In the picturesque maritime community of La Conner, nestled along the Swinomish Channel in northern Washington, architecture studio BuildingWork has brought together history, Indigenous culture, and modern design to create the breathtaking La Conner Swinomish Library.

This small Washington library is a true testament to how architectural excellence can blend seamlessly with local culture and heritage.


BuildingWork’s design for the library embraces a unique blend of local materials and cultural references. The architects incorporated elements from both historic buildings and the rich heritage of the Swinomish Tribe, who are part of the larger ethnic group known as Coast Salish.

The library’s structure stands firm with a concrete foundation, but what truly sets it apart is the innovative use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels made from local Douglas fir. These panels, manufactured in Washington, were left exposed on the interior, creating a warm and inviting environment. It’s a nod to sustainability and a connection to the region’s abundant natural resources.

On the exterior, the library showcases a stunning mix of materials. The main volume is painted a creamy white, while another volume stands resplendent in a dark grey hue. A specially designed font for the project was used to create a brick-coloured sign announcing the library’s presence, adding a distinct touch to the façade.

“Framed in steel, and with floor-to-ceiling glass, the bay window is a contemporary element that speaks to both old and new,” the team said. “BuildingWork designed the feature to provide transparency into the warm reading room beyond, as well as views of the main street from within – an inviting gesture positioned toward those driving through town.”

However, what truly honours the local culture and heritage is the magnificent traditional story pole at the library’s entrance. Standing at 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall, this wooden pole, carved from a cedar log, features intricate carvings that pay tribute to the Swinomish Tribe. Designed and crafted by Swinomish elder and master carver Kevin Paul and his son-in-law Camas Logue, the pole depicts an Indigenous person, two circling salmon, and an eagle, all of which hold deep significance in the Swinomish culture.

“Although the town of La Conner and the Swinomish reservation are physically adjacent, they have been separated by history, culture and the complex legacies of settler colonialism,” the team said. “During the process, the library formed a project-altering partnership with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, resulting in the tribe becoming heavily involved in the project and one of its largest benefactors.”

Inside the library, visitors are welcomed into a space that offers a range of areas, from meeting rooms to dedicated reading spaces for children, teens, and adults. The use of cedar cladding continues indoors, providing a sense of continuity with the surrounding natural landscape and local heritage.

BuildingWork’s La Conner Swinomish Library stands as a testament to how modern architecture can harmoniously blend with local culture and history. This small Washington library is not just a repository of books but a living tribute to the rich tapestry of the Pacific Northwest’s heritage, providing a warm and inviting space for the community it serves.

Images by Doug Scott via Dezeen

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