A Case of Library Envy
Science and Engineering Library | Columbia University | New York
Architect: Rafael Moneo Vallés Arquitecto
Columbia University’s new Science and Engineering Library (SEL) is the latest take on how libraries support science research and learning. Housed in a new state-of-the-art high-rise interdisciplinary laboratory building built over an existing ground-level gymnasium, this project required no additional footprint to accomplish its space goals.
One of the many reasons why this LEED Gold–certified project is unique and noteworthy is the building’s location, which serves as a portal to the university’s expansion into West Harlem, as well as access to a popular café. But it’s the SEL itself—Pritzker Prize–winning architect José Rafael Moneo’s bridge-like steel structure—that is the magnet for students. The space, occupying two double-height floors and a half-floor mezzanine complete with great views of the campus and city, has become so popular that some campus blog posts by science and engineering undergrads request that only science and engineering students use this library. Davis Brody Bond Aedas was the associate architect.
Carefully conceived to foster innovation when it comes to advanced technologies, the Digital Science Center, contained within the SEL, is Columbia University Libraries’ fulfillment of its vision to redefine library space for the 21st century. It offers over 50 high-end workstations, an array of advanced peripherals like 3-D mice, over six-dozen specialized applications for scientific analysis, plus live in-person and virtual research support and consulting for emerging technologies.
The SEL boasts over 345 seats, plenty of collaborative spaces like booths and study rooms, presentation practice spaces, and traditional print materials.
The end result is that the SEL, by creating energizing, smart, and collaborative spaces, has lured researchers out of their offices and into the library, created “library envy” in the nonscience population, and is a case study in the shift of libraries as suppliers of print to providers and facilitators of tools and expertise designed to accomplish research and learning.
Progressing Toward Solitude
University of Arizona Poetry Center | University of Arizona | Tucson
Architect: Line and Space, LLC
The University of Arizona Poetry Center has a long past. Dating back to the 1960s and its humble beginnings in a small cottage, it made history in 2007 when the university opened it as the first building on an academic campus devoted solely to advancing and promoting poetry and literature. Over 18,000 square feet houses a 70,000-plus item noncirculating collection plus myriad spaces and places for experiencing poetry.
Sited on the edge of a campus that sits proudly in the Sonoran Desert, the Poetry Center is designed to be water-wise, energy thrifty, and solar shading. A poet-in-residence apartment can be naturally ventilated and offers living, writing, and research space within steps of the center’s collection of contemporary poetry.
Like many “centers of,” this one has diverse stakeholders including university students and faculty, researchers, poets, community members, and poetry lovers everywhere. Many helped in planning the building through a series of programming workshops during which a dissonance of active and quiet space needs emerged. The architect carefully crafted a solution that made everyone happy by creating a building that “progressed toward solitude.”
A munificent but delightfully spare building, the Poetry Center offers a distinguished reading series open to the public, academic support, community workshops, in-residence experiences for visiting writers, and special exhibits and cultural events. Comprehensive collection management, developed by Poetry Center staff and librarians along with the architect, was designed to control carefully the growth of the center’s distinguished collection with annual review of items reaching the midpoint in their life expectancy.
The Poetry Center’s architecture, with its modernist self shining through the angled glass wall and metal-sheathed roof lines at the entrance, is a major departure from the campus norm yet unflinchingly harmonizes with poetry’s innate equilibrium of opposites. Never has there been so much needed attention brought to bear on verse.
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