Page C1.1 . 13 December 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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    Postcard from Providence

    ArchWeek Image

    The new Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design. Photo: John Horner

    ArchWeek Image

    Photo: Brian Jones

    ArchWeek Image

    Photo: John Supancic

    ArchWeek Image

    Photo: David O'Connor


    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Add to your list of great spaces to visit: the new Fleet Library of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in DownCity, Providence. The 1917 12-story former office building now houses 130,000 books and 685,000 images (slides, videos and pictures). Well designed, up-to-date conditions and equipment for feasting on this information and knowledge are lovingly inserted into this Italian high-renaissance-style banking hall. The in-house Portfolio Cafe makes daily food feasting convenient and stylish too. Above the two-story library is housing for 500 RISD students.

    Office dA of Boston RISD grad Nader Tehrani and partner Monica Ponce de Leon placed two large, relatively ephemeral, caramel-latte-colored islands within the apparently eternal, 114- by 180- by 50-foot (35- by 55- by 15-meter) arcaded, barrel-vaulted, grandly fenestrated hall. One island harbors the circulation desk, the other hosts study carrels, conference rooms, and a rooftop study perched at the top of an inclined seating terrace. Between the islands is a well used "living room" with groups of floor lamps and comfortable reading chairs. Around them are well lit open stacks, reading tables, computers, and special conference and viewing rooms.

    Background white noise masks voices and footfalls in this elegant, glowing space. Tall windows reflect the city's activities, day and night, as graphics-in-motion. Colorful characters the library's users are on display, in a full range of study settings from very private to very public. Every element illustrates designers' practices and educators' philosophies: laser-cut high-density fiberboard panels make up the islands. Some are solid, some are screens with perforations that spell out a multimedia roster of artists' names. The floors are covered with renewable cork; the wheelchair ramp at the entry is wrapped by a glass-encased exhibit of artist bookmaking; and full-color handouts narrating in the library's story list major material choices and product manufacturers used in the library's design.

    RISD's Fleet Library also bridges between academia and the city, welcoming members of the public. It contributes socially, as well as physically, to the great makeover of downtown Providence, by extending RISD beyond its traditional campus, crossing over the newly exposed Providence River and incorporating a piece of the handsome civic architecture of Waterplace Park as a central square for the creative economy and the city's cultural life.

    Recently Returned Providence Resident
    Rebecca Barnes, FAIA

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