Don McKay on Community-Focused Library Design & Poetic Potential in Architecture | Episode 9

Prefer to listen? You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts!

Welcome back to the Agati Video Podcast, a space where Joe Agati, COO & Director of Design here at Agati Furniture, hosts conversations with designers, architects, and difference-makers to bring inspiration and education to your work.

“As general trust in public institutions has eroded, libraries have largely been able to keep the trust of the public.” – Don McKay

Don McKay is a Principal at Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects, a leading architectural firm with offices in Chicago and London.

His journey in architecture started with a simple suggestion in a shop class that led him to discover a life-long passion. Don finds his greatest inspiration from architecture’s poetic potential and the challenge that comes with designing highly tailored solutions. With four decades of experience in the industry, his work with the firm has earned more than 20 industry design awards.

In today’s episode, Don takes us on a deep-dive into many of the projects he and his team have worked on, why architecture is so important to him, how to effectively incorporate flexibility into a space, and what he’s learned as a designer over the years. It was truly a joy to have Don on the show, and this is one you don’t want to miss!




  • “We consider libraries a client type rather than a project type.”
  • “When you’re working with someone who doesn’t build often, you become much more focused on issues like values and aspirations.”
  • “As a designer, you have to be careful about projecting your own values on a project.”
  • “One of the essential functions of a library is to provide people access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
  • “As general trust in public institutions has eroded, libraries have largely been able to keep the trust of the public.”
  • “Giving people choices is a way of supporting the wide range of people utilizing the library.”

Our Key Takeaways:

1) Libraries should be very intentional moving forward in continuing to keep the trust of the public. We talk often about how libraries are central pillars of a community, but it was insightful to hear Don talk about the widespread trust libraries generally have from the public.

2) We have to prioritize flexibility in our spaces without it becoming chaos. Don talked a lot about how flexibility is one of the key ways we meet such a wide variety of needs in a public space like a library.

3) Reaching poetic potential in architecture is rare, but it starts with intentionality. This is captured most effectively in the many stories Don told in the episode, but starting with real community needs at the foundation of a design sets the trajectory to be able to make something truly special.

Subscribe to the Agati Video Podcast

To ensure you don’t miss future conversation we share on the Agati Video Podcast, be sure to subscribe over on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify! We’ll also be sharing each new episode via email, and you can get that delivered straight to your inbox by using the form below: