Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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Gehry-Designed Peter B. Lewis Library Features Interior “Abstract Landscape”

Dilshanie Perera

Standing inside the “treehouse,” the aptly-named second-floor reading room inside the Peter B. Lewis Library, students have a 360-degree, unimpeded view of the outside world. Nestled among the nearby branches, the reading area is part of the new science library designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Described by project manager Henry Thomas as “one of the most exciting spaces in the building,” the treehouse features high ceilings, suspended tubes of light that can regulate output based on amount of natural light coming in through the windows, and a sculptural roof that shelters readers from glare.

Since it does not use “sheer walls or diagonal supports” to hold up the “cascading stainless steel shells” that comprise its roof, the room is a surprising feat of engineering. Mr. Thomas noted that “like a lot of other geometry in the building, you’ll see curves with changing radii” utilized in the space.

Other campus buildings and much of Washington Road can be seen from within the treehouse. At that vantage point, “you can be in a private, quiet space, but in the middle of things at the same time,” Mr. Thomas enthused.

The interior of the Lewis Library makes use of various forms and colors to achieve what Mr. Gehry has described as an “abstract landscape” suited to spurring creative thought. The public spaces inside the building are awash in bright colors including tangerine, chartreuse, royal blue, and red orange, which adorn the larger walls.

The offices, classrooms, study spaces, and reading rooms are all of more neutral hues, but color is added through the furnishings, some of which are designed by Mr. Gehry.

Comprised of five floors, the Lewis Library connects to the math and physics library in Fine Hall underground through its A-level, which also houses compact shelving units for the library books. Above-grade, the four floors house different offices, a digital media classroom, two large lecture halls, various other classrooms that will be used by departments both inside and outside the sciences, private study spaces, reading areas, and locations for new books and periodicals.

The Lewis Library brings “scientific books, periodicals, maps, and other scholarly resources together in one place,” wrote University President Shirley Tilghman in the Princeton Alumni Weekly in May, “for the first time since the 19th century.” Previously, the different scientific disciplines had their own departmental libraries. The new space is expected to foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

When asked about what she is looking forward to most regarding the new building, Dorothy Pearson, the Associate University Librarian for Administrative Services, responded emphatically, “the students!” She is excited about how students will be able to interact with the different spaces and their different uses within the library.

Construction on the library began in November 2004, and was completed in August 2008. A few delays, including changing the non-university company managing construction, pushed back the opening date of the building. In May the University was informed by a federal prosecutor that the construction management company the University had originally engaged in the library project had been involved in criminal activities regarding the subcontracts and bids they negotiated, according to University spokesperson Cass Cliatt.

The new construction manager and general contractor, Barr & Barr, Inc. Builders, who oversaw the successful completion of the project, elaborated upon the process of creating a Gehry-designed structure. The project itself was made possible by a new computer software program called Digital Project that was engineered and marketed by Gehry Technology to operate on a computer platform known as CATIA.

The computer-generated models were the reference points, as opposed to traditional blueprint drawings. Noting that the “tool was very useful in the design, and essential to it,” Mr. Thomas emphasized that it was also integral to the construction since it was “the only way anybody could describe the building.”

The Lewis Library opens tomorrow, Thursday, September 11, to coincide with the first day of classes at the university.

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