By the time funding was in place and design development and construction documents had started, Miklos had moved to Ann Beha Architects (also in Boston), taking the project with him. (Miklos has since left Beha's firm and started his own practice.) The new library was dedicated in April of 2005 and was completed without shutting down the existing building during construction.
Glass over Stone
Skillman Library's central location on campus and the expectations that today's students have of college libraries drove the reorganization and renovation of existing spaces (70,000 square feet, or 6500 square meters) and the addition of new space (35,000 square feet, or 3250 square meters).
The radical transformation of the library is a new spark of life in the Lafayette quadrangle. The glass walls that wrap the building on the east and north sides the elevations that are most prominent in views from the quad are visually open and welcoming. At night, Skillman glows with light and activity.
Stack spaces and reference materials are now concentrated in the core of the three-level building (one level below grade, two above), with stacks located on the top and bottom levels and a "reference studio" (computer lab) on the middle level. The library's main entry is also on the middle level.
The existing west and south facades are redesigned with more fenestration and new fieldstone and copper cladding. New glass, stone, and copper walls push out eastward at various depths from the original building.
On the northeast corner, the new wall is entirely of glass, with a wooden brise-soleil inside the glass curtain wall. On the middle level, these spaces are devoted to periodicals and a media lab. On the top floor is a light-filled reading room and a program room to the north. The bottom level holds two new instructional spaces and a reading room to the north.
The library's new entrance, set back and located south of the new glass wall, punctures a solid wall of Pennsylvania fieldstone. The use of natural materials that are part of the region is welcome here, as they tie the library to the building traditions of Eastern Pennsylvania.
Through the entrance, one arrives at the reference studio, arrayed with computers. This is a comfortable, bright space where students research papers and consult reference materials.
Nearby is a new common room and cafe, which satisfies the need for an informal gathering space for students to relax with coffee and snacks. Located just south of the new entrance, the cafe has great views of the campus from different kinds of seating a counter with stools, small tables with cafe chairs, and big comfortable couches and armchairs.
A gracious bluestone staircase that rises from the library's middle level to the top floor dominates the slot of space that demarcates the line between the old building and the addition to the east. The staircase and the two-story space around it are bathed in natural illumination from a skylight that runs its length.
This light is filtered through frosted glass panels, used throughout the library interior to provide visual partitions yet allow illumination to penetrate the interior spaces. Bridges on the top level allow vantage points from which to comprehend this light and airy space.
The new Skillman Library captured two awards in 2005 from the Boston Society of Architects: an honor award and a higher education design award. More recently, the project won a 2006 AIA national honor award for interior architecture.
Skillman's interiors reveal a refined sense of spare elegance. Richly grained cherry paneling contrasts with copper, frosted glass, and Pennsylvania fieldstone. Furnishings have simple lines and work well with the modern interiors that have given Skillman Library a new lease on life.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.