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STRUCTURES : Light Reading : Architect Scott Ellinwood's Ray D. Prueter Library in Port Hueneme mixes grace and practicality.


The Ray D. Prueter Library in Port Hueneme is one of those deceptively seamless public buildings, with charms and quirks that unfold gently instead of brashly. Nestled homogenously into its suburban environment, it offers an amiable handshake to its neighbor--a collection of faceless American tract houses.

Closer inspection reveals a structure that is a mixture of grace and practicality. From the outside, two wings appear to be joined by an arched roof--an imaginative division in what could have been a hangarlike space. Terra cotta-colored walls are offset by large turquoise-tinted windows and steel pillars that serve as vertical motifs.

Past the wall-of-glass entryway, visitors find themselves in a library emphasizing spaciousness and light. It is 15,000 square feet, more than four times the size of its predecessor.

But despite the library's size, there is a feeling of intimacy generated by a key use of daylight and light wood shelving, which creates a space that is reader-friendly.

Neither overtly contemporary nor classical in design, the library offers a good example of how public architecture can serve those two harsh masters: form and function.

For his efforts, architect Scott Ellinwood scooped up an Honor Award at the recent Design Awards of the American Institute of Architects, Ventura Chapter. Due to the relatively modest amount of construction in the area, the local group presents its awards only sporadically. The last presentation was in 1988.

This year, in addition to the Honor Award, Merit Awards went to the Main Street Architects for Clinicas del Camino Real in Oxnard, to the Santa Barbara-based Design Arc for a custom residence in Oxnard and to Cooper Roberts from Salt Lake City for the Unocal Oil Museum restoration project in Santa Paula.

Ellinwood, after studying and practicing in Michigan, did a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, and then settled in Ventura County with his wife in 1970. He became a partner with Larry Rassmussen before forming Scott Ellinwood & Associates in 1982.

Ellinwood's visible handiwork in the area includes the Salzer building--"a building as a billboard," Ellinwood said. He also designed the Bank of A. Levy headquarters building near Seaward Avenue and the Ventura Freeway.

Ellinwood has played a role in Port Hueneme's systematic face lift over the last several years. In addition to private projects, he designed the Dorill B. Wright Cultural Center in 1983 and the Templeman Education Center, which won an American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1988.

Ellinwood's proposal for the library design four years ago was based on his architectural philosophy, a tenet of which is "doing buildings that fit appropriately into their neighborhoods." He said energy efficiency and using natural light are characteristic of his work.

The finished product opened in the fall of 1989 and is now being expanded to include a community center.

The library has won two awards from the Illumination Engineering Society for its lighting design. State regulations require new buildings to adhere to tough energy standards, Ellinwood said, and the library uses 27% less energy than the standards allow.

Energy usage has been a central concern for Ellinwood, who got considerable attention for the "totally day-lit" design of the Bank of A. Levy building. In 1983, it won the Owen Corning Award, a national award recognizing buildings that use energy wisely.

Ellinwood said the lobby of the Dorill B. Wright Cultural Center uses a hybrid technology, working as a solar greenhouse.

He lectures on the use of daylight in design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and USC, as well as at Edison-sponsored "daylighting" seminars.

Ellinwood said energy conservation "is a commitment I've had for a long time, because I think it's a responsible way to practice. We all could see the environmental crisis coming, if we chose to look at it."

Beyond matters of energy and usefulness, the library boasts zigzagging checkout counters and signs that suggest a dash of 1930s Americana.

"I think the intention there was not to reflect a specific style," Ellinwood said. "The aesthetic goal of the architecture was for the structure itself to look light."

The architects that he respects most are those who managed light very well, particularly Eero Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright, he said. "I see this building as a continuation of that same philosophy rather than trying to imitate a style."

And you thought it was just a friendly neighborhood library.

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