Crafted for a New Worldview
Goucher Athenaeum | Goucher College | Baltimore
SIZE 103,000 square feet
COST $40 million
LEED-NC Gold certification
Student Pop 1,827
Our number one NLL facility, Goucher Athenaeum, crosses service boundaries, mixes library metaphors, and harmonizes a campus already known for its modernist aesthetic. Wholly new to this 1940s campus, the Athenaeum exemplifies the library as the intellectual, cultural, and social crossroads of campus. Library as “crossroads” or “forum” is a transformative notion unequivocally realized through this building’s design, functionality, and siting.
Not only is the Athenaeum Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified, its design leadership is also reflected in the stakeholder input process, integration with the site, prominence of the book collection, and the inclusion of campus functions previously outside the library’s scope.
A great glass ship
Smack dab in the center of the library is the “Forum,” a theater-like wide-open space for speakers, transmission of world events, performers, and lectures. Wrapped around this central organizing element is the library, replete with the familiar and the new. In fact, Nancy Magnuson, college librarian, describes the building’s purpose as a student forum “anchored by a state-of-the-art library.” Her description is representative of a project that stands as an exemplar to help others expand their thinking about strategic campus partnerships and the library’s contributions to creating and sustaining the campus experience.
A dramatic building, the Athenaeum is like a “great glass ship floating on a rolling sea of meadow greenery,” according to Magnuson. It anchors the library to the campus and offers a “wow” view of the contents inside. The stacks, bounded by colorful ends, appear like brightly hued cornrows in a distant field—a signature view that will surely be symbolic of this project.
The design process started with input gathered via a plethora of channels like surveys, focus groups, and the obligatory task forces. A task force composed of all campus areas reviewed all input and made final recommendations to the president and architect. With a short list of principles underlying their efforts, the group pointed to the library being the key element of the project and all other components working to “complement or expand the reach of the library.”
Durable material choices of glass, stone, wood, and copper on the exterior along with terrazzo, white oak, redwood, carpet, and glass on the interior respect the college’s long view on educating future generations, a decidedly modern and sustainable concept. Recyclable carpet, durable furniture choices like solid oak carrels and tables, cleanable finishes, and fabrics like synthetic leather on soft seating are examples of that long-term thinking.
Its aggressive sustainability in design includes solar-heated water and an HVAC system that uses radiant heat, energy-recovery wheels, and displacement ventilation to maximize system efficiency. Occupancy sensors not only control lighting but also reduce heating and cooling when a space is unoccupied. A rain garden, along with two roof gardens, reduces storm water runoff.
It’s the incorporation of nonlinear thinking about the student that makes the Athenaeum a standout. The student is seen holistically with service delivery 24-7 that is geared to providing a place for study, collaboration, teaching, performing, reading, sleeping, exercising, and dining. Flexible spaces that can serve a range of needs from meeting place to parties to town hall are everywhere.
Rethinking how the library operates is what makes the building so successful. Many processes, once deemed effective and efficient, were replaced with new ways, like interfiling reference materials and bound periodicals into the main collection. Because those materials are weeded frequently, major collection moves are avoided.
Another punch for the Athenaeum is its connection to the broader community. It offers a curriculum resource center that serves not only students but also public and private educational institutions. For example, local school librarians, teachers, and administrators are invited to lectures. A community service center provides a tutoring program for children on Saturday mornings, mentoring services, and additional programming space to engage the community beyond the campus. Finally, the college’s first art gallery, located next to a performance space, showcases the college’s collection, as well as students’ and known artists’ works.
The list of nontraditional services offered is staggering. An information commons, jointly operated by the IT department, provides service from a dedicated IT help desk and separate, but nearby, librarian service desk. There are special rooms for research librarians to consult with students.
For the 24-hour student, an espresso station would not do. Instead, Alice’s Restaurant, centrally located next to the Forum, serves sandwiches, salads, and other light fare. A radio station, called the Sound of the Gopher, can be seen by passersby and is wired into the Athenaeum’s AV system, allowing for programs to be heard throughout the facility.
Exercise equipment is sprinkled throughout, and some spaces have no predetermined purpose whatsoever.
Plenty of classrooms, including one for the digital arts, join many small and large group study rooms and a “readers’ loft” to provide formal and informal learning experiences.
What’s most compelling is that the Athenaeum responds to deeply held Goucher College values, yet openly departs from the 20th-century view of what a library should be. More than at any time in its history, it respects the needs of students and creates a far richer experience. With the 47 percent increase in use of the library since its opening, the Athenaeum is a vibrant centerfold for student life and campus sustainability.
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