Behold the exterior of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Parkway Central Library and you may think you’ve been transported to a Parisian palace on the Champs d’Elysee. That was the desired effect when the building was constructed in 1927.
But take the elevator to the library’s recently renovated fourth floor and you’ll find something very different — two sleek settings where modern minimalism complements Beaux-Arts elegance.
One is a green roof project designed to demonstrate energy-saving, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing alternatives to conventional roofs. Established in 2008, it was part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s initiative to make Philadelphia one of the greenest cities in the country.
Several layers designed specifically for insulation, drainage, and waterproofing allow the green roof to improve air quality, reduce runoff to city sewer systems, and keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. From white stonecrop and blue spruce to blue cadet and prairie dropseed, more than 5,400 low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants grow on 100 cubic feet of soil on the 5,000-square-feet space. It also affords a striking view of Central City Philadelphia’s Logan Square.
The other is the Culinary Literacy Center, a commercial-grade kitchen that serves as a classroom for food, science, nutrition and literacy. It is the first of its kind in America.
Since 2014, 11,000 Philadelphians of all ages and backgrounds have participated in demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes taught by local chefs. From butchering demonstrations and knife-skill programs and to photographing food and creating meals on a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget, the classes teach math through measuring, reading through recipes, chemistry through cooking, and consumer skills through reading a nutrition label.
Edible Alphabet, an English-as-a-Second-Language program, teaches participants how to cook nutritious meals, and helps them develop English language skills by identifying ingredients and kitchen tools in English and learning common cooking verbs and food adjectives.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a librarian who administers the space, showed us around the 1,700-square-feet space. It features 16 burners, a large work table, four convection ovens with salamanders, grill tops, freezer drawers, sinks, four refrigerators and one walk-in refrigerator, dishwashers, nine stainless steel tables, and three cameras to project images of cooking under way. An outdoor terrace includes a small herb garden.