Out of the Shadows and Into the Light

‍Spaces for Focused Study and Co-Curricular Connection Take Center Stage at Higher Ed Libraries

Daylight infuses the glass-enclosed communicating stair at the Alumni Medical Library of Boston University’s School of Medicine.

Originally published in High Profile.

Libraries at institutions of higher education have been the focus of major change since 2000. The digitization of information and access to it outside the library, has made the old paradigm of large stack areas with the occasional study carrel obsolete. Many institutions have invested in large and often expensive new libraries to serve the changing curricular needs of students. These buildings, unlike their forbears, are not repositories for books but campus centers with access to curricular, student service, gathering, and study spaces.

What happens when there is an existing facility whose replacement does not make sense from a financial or sustainability perspective,or where library and campus resources require a different approach? Two projects at Boston University’s Medical Campus and Babson College demonstrate alternatives for infusing contemporary needs into existing facilities from the 1960’s – on a budget.

Boston University’s School of Medicine was approaching accreditation. They had a tight timeline, and an urgent need to provide spaces for individual focused, heads down work. Medical, Dental and Public Health students all relied on the existing facility – located in a 1960’s instructional building - for graduate level study. Book stacks were removed from the last stack area of the three-floor library space, and the existing concrete enclosure of a communicating stair was demolished. Laminated glazing now encloses the communicating stair, but allows daylight to penetrate the space, while film at the existing glazing eliminates the need for shades and makes for unobstructed views of Boston. To support focused study and promote students varied learning styles large carrels accommodate print and digital study materials, and sound isolated glass booths, soft banquettes and enclosed pods offer a variety of seating and space options and even allow for napping.

The existing Horn Library at Babson, while centrally located, lacked a clear entry and contained disjointed spaces such as social and gathering spaces that were disruptive to quiet study spaces. The construction of the new Commons at Horn Library created a central zone for social, meeting and group study spaces in a dedicated area. This 10,000 SF conservatory-like structure also serves as the new visual heart of the campus. This removal of social and gathering spaces from within the library enabled improved circulation and paved the way for a renovated quiet study zone. Additionally,the Stephen D. Cutler Center – a mock trading floor space central to the College’s finance pedagogy – was re-located to the Commons, gaining a larger footprint, daylight, a prominent location and a visual connection to the Commons though the use of laminated acoustic glazing.

These projects – one a renovation and the other an addition/renovation - demonstrate that with an integrated planning and design approach, existing buildings can be repurposed for changing campus curricular needs while creating vibrant new curricular and social centers – on tight timelines and budgets.