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May 2024




Healing Ground, Living Values

Celebrating National Historic Preservation Month 2024! We strongly encourage you to learn about the "Stanley Center for Peace and Security"  headquartered in Muscatine, Iowa. The Stanley Center, founded in 1956, is a non-profit foundation devoted to facilitating a wide range of policy changes and governance practices that address global challenges tied to climate change, nuclear weapons and mass violence. 


Working towards "Living Building Challenge" certification, The Stanley Center and their design partners Neumann Monson Architects engaged in the unique challenge of adapting a 1970's era public library building into a fully regenerative and universally accessible corporate headquarters. The integrated project team approached various logistical and design challenges related to site ecology and hydrology, urban agriculture, equity and inclusion. 

Welcome back Guest Author, Justin R. Wolf, independent writer, editor, and content strategist for the AEC industry. He is a contributing editor to Green Building Advisor writing about energy policy, green building news and climate action milestones. His writings have appeared in Fine Homebuilding, Metropolis, Architectural Record, ENTER (AIA Minnesota), Common Edge, Arch Daily, Fast Company, Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly and more. The following is an excerpt from Justin's first book " Healing Ground, Living Values: Stanley Center for Peace and Security".
Justin can be reached at

As typical urban plots go, the site for the Stanley Center for Peace and Security’s Living Building boasts few qualities of note to the naked eye. However, what transpired on this corner – structurally, ecologically, and historically – makes the corner of Third Street and Iowa Avenue one of the most important intersections in Muscatine’s history.

The P.M. Musser Library opened to the public on February 19, 1902. With a façade of red sandstone, a red slate roof, steam heat, and electric lighting (Muscatine’s power plant opened the previous year), the new three-story building was undeniably stately but without the flash embodied in other stone structures that went up during America’s Gilded Age. Its deep setback and dramatic curb appeal communicated its purpose as a place of learning. “It was a beautiful old building, and you would walk up these big steps to the front door,” Muscatine resident and local archivist Sheila Chaudoin, a long-time library employee, commented for a 2016 article in the  Muscatine Journal. “And on the fourth or fifth step up was the date of the building, 1901. As kids we called that the ‘poison step,’ so you had to step over it to get into the building.”

As beloved as this library was, it also came with issues. At first, the central concern was capacity. An extension was added to the back of the building in 1965, with funds donated by P.M.’s son, C.R. Musser. But in 1970, an engineer’s report indicated that the original 1901 building was structurally compromised. In other words, it was slowly sinking. The building that replaced the original library, along with the 1965 addition, are what today comprise the bones of the Stanley Center for Peace and Security’s new home.

Unlike its predecessor, the 1971 Musser Public Library was not so aesthetically beloved. The building boasted a ground floor atrium that received little daylight, odd-shaped balconies that few patrons ever used, and the curb appeal of your average parking garage. It was brutal without the benefit of being Brutalist. Thankfully, the institution took some care to honor its history. Prior to razing the old building, the library’s director, James White, led an effort to salvage the 1901 “poison step” and make it the cornerstone for the new building. An airtight metal time capsule was placed inside the cornerstone, containing, among other items, a letter written by White, addressed “To Whom It May Concern”: “The building was [sic] are passing on to you was planned to the best of our abilities. Only you, in your time, can judge whether we planned carefully. We intended to build for twenty years of expansion. Time will tell whether we were correct or not.”

Time proved him correct, plus another twenty-five years. By 2017, space constraints and “multiple building issues,” according to the library’s website, forced the library to explore options for a new home.

Third and Iowa languished. This odd building, with its bric-a-brac triangles jutting out from the second floor and a (presumably) forgotten cornerstone, had become a puzzle for the city to solve. It may have been an eyesore by contemporary standards, according to some, but there was no denying the structural superiority of the 1971 building over its more attractive turn-of-the-century predecessor. So, tear it down? But replace it with what? Renovate it? But for what use? Either way, no one had a good answer.

Then sometime in 2019, the board of directors of the Stanley Center, as well as Center leadership, began a process of self-examination. Since Max Stanley’s passing in 1984, the organization had undergone several changes, forged new partnerships, and launched new initiatives. Its internal ranks grew as well, and it formally adopted climate change as a core focus of its work. With new growth inevitably comes growing pains, and as the second decade of the twenty-first century approached its end, two things had become apparent: Stanley Center staff and leadership knew their organization needed a new home, and the board of directors expressed their wishes that the foundation remain in Muscatine and become a place where people would want to come to work every day. 

The former Musser Library building at Third and Iowa wasn’t the obvious choice, and by many accounts it wasn’t the easy choice. But it was undeniably the right choice. 

 This excerpt and images are republished with the expressed permission of Ecotone Publishing. 

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