November 21, 2008

Harper Library renovations to include revamped reading rooms, new café

Students met with planners Wednesday to discuss the redesign of the second floor of Harper Memorial Library, preparing the space to become a 24-hour student activity hub. The Harper reading room could close for renovations as early as this winter and is slated to reopen in autumn of next year.

According to Bill Michel, assistant Vice President for student life and associate dean, the plans include a revamp of the Harper and Stuart reading rooms, a café, and improvements to the library’s overall accessibility. Michel, who led the design-planning meeting with a small group of students, said that as the new dorm and Logan Arts Center open south of the Midway, the University’s center will shift, making Harper’s location prime real estate. Michel also said that Harper’s role as a study space and home to the tutoring and writing programs will have to expand to accommodate that shift.

The University is working with architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang to improve the computer stations in the West Tower and create a café and eating area in the East Tower, where the circulation desk is currently. They will also bring single-user bathrooms to the floor for the first time.

At the meeting, students responded to Gang’s proposed designs, which utilize contemporary design elements, such as florescent-colored chairs. One concern among the students was whether or not the new designs will compromise the Harper Reading Room’s Gothic style.

Gang, however, was not worried.

“The architecture is so dominant in this space it’s hard to make an impact on it even if you were trying,” she said. “We want to make the things you touch warmer, more ergonomic, and bring some color into the space.”

Gang, who is working with the University for the first time, said she wants to incorporate environmentally sustainable materials into the building’s new design, including rubber and cork floor tile.

“We’re trying to find materials we can get that are made locally to reduce the amount of energy needed for travel, and make sure they are made from recycled content,” he said.

According to Gang, historical documents show that Harper Reading Room’s floors may have originally been made of cork, so replacing the current carpeting with cork floors would tie Harper to its history while bringing it up-to-date with today’s push for eco-friendliness.

After Harper reading room is renovated, the Stuart reading space on the other side of the floor would be up next. While the University is committed to maintaining Harper’s neo-Gothic feel, Michel said that Stuart may undergo significant changes, among them the creation of a mezzanine level that would take advantage of the room’s high ceilings. Stuart will most likely close in the summer of 2009 and reopen in the spring of 2010, he said.

“We want you to still get a sense of how grand the space is,” Michel said. “But we will also create a really dynamic group study area, and a place for the writing and tutoring programs.”