Library Architecture

Guest post by Sarah Steers, WPLLA Board Member-at-Large

A library’s structure inspires many feelings.  A cornerstone of a community or university, libraries are often large, and made of stone or brick.  Physically imposing, people quiet down and straighten up.  Libraries seem to command a bit of respect.

Christopher Rolinson, CC BY 3.0 us

One beautiful example of fine library architecture exists right here – the Braddock Carnegie Library.  Opened in 1889 with an addition in 1893, it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for over forty years.  It was finally named a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

Fisher Fine Arts Library

Clear on the other side of the Commonwealth, the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania also gets audible gasps.  Originally built as the main library for the university and opened for use in 1891, it was called the Furness Library for many years, after its architect.  This library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

But don’t limit yourself to Pennsylvania!  For a librarian, a visit to Washington, D.C. should certainly include a stop at the Library of Congress.  With construction approved by Congress in 1886, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress finally opened to the public in 1897.  It houses stunning murals that highlight the development of writing (John White Alexander’s Evolution of the Written Word) as well as the possibilities of democratic governance (Elihu Vedder’s Government).

Close by, the George Peabody Library at John Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute in Baltimore houses special collections.  More recently, it’s been used as a venue for luxurious events – clicking through the pictures, it’s obvious why.

The 19th century doesn’t hold a monopoly on library cornerstones.  World-famous architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus designed the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library – the glittery, glass modern design opened to the public in 2004.

Some newly designed libraries take their cue from natural elements.  The Scottsdale Public Library, also known as the Arabian Library, gracefully mimics the surrounding desert in color and shape.  The designing architectural firm richard + bauer proudly displays pictures of the library from every angle.


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