Transparent addition puts historic Brutalist library on display.
When designLAB architects signed on (with associate architect Austin Architects) to renovate and expand the Claire T. Carney Library at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, they faced a particular challenge: addressing the college’s changing educational and sustainability priorities while respecting the legacy of the campus’ original architect and planner, Paul Rudolph. “We never intended to try to preserve the building 100 percent,” explained designLAB’s Ben Youtz. “It was more about understanding Rudolph’s goals for the project, then re-presenting them to meet current needs.”
At the same time, he said, “the reality was we were never going to compete, architecturally, with the form of this building.” Instead, the architects conceived of the 27,000-square-foot addition as a vitrine within which to display the master designer’s work. The result, a transparent glass box revealed through a curtain of mesh sunshades, pays homage to Rudolph’s design without sacrificing either the library’s revised programmatic goals or the call for improved environmental performance.
Both the renovation and the addition address the changing role of the library on college campuses. “Libraries today are much less about the book, and much more about engaging with your peers, both academically and socially,” said Youtz. designLAB moved much of Carney Library’s collection from the stack floors to below-grade compact shelving, transforming the reclaimed space into a variety of lounge and group study environments. “It was about creating a more collaborative, public experience,” said Youtz. “In that sense, the addition was thought of not just as a new front door to the library, but a new front door to the campus.” Located along one of UMass Dartmouth’s primary circulatory spines, the transparent addition, which accommodates a browsing area, group study spaces, and a cafe, visually connects the parking areas to the west with the main campus green to the east.
Sustainability was a key concern for the clients. “The existing building was a behemoth in terms of its energy consumption,” explained Youtz. In renovated portions of the building, designLAB achieved substantial savings through the introduction of insulated glass and thermally broken glazing systems, a super insulated roof, and a high efficiency mechanical system.
With respect to the addition, the vitrine metaphor as well as the desire to foster connectivity and collaboration called for a high degree of transparency. “To do that you want to have a lot of glass,” said Youtz. “But of course this has challenges in terms of heat gain.” The architects chose high performance glass and a thermally broken curtain wall system for the open-plan space, which wraps under and around an existing second-story bridge to the science and engineering building. To further reduce solar gain, they introduced a frit pattern on the west side of the addition as well as glazing on the west and south facades of the original structure. The pattern recalls the weft and weave of fabric, a nod to the college’s historic connection to the local textile industry.
Stainless steel mesh sunshades provide another layer of protection against the sun. designLAB derived the spacing of the mesh fins on the east and west facades of the addition from the system of CMU elements on the library’s third- and fifth-floor cantilevers. The material, in turn, looks to the mesh shades originally installed in the atrium spaces scattered around campus. “Our treatment of the addition was spinning off this mesh idea that Rudolph introduced on the inside—we took it and put it on the outside,” explained Youtz. “One of the ideas is that this is a curtain of diaphanous stainless steel mesh wrapping the stage on which Rudolph is presented.” The fins, which are deeper, more tightly spaced, and pulled farther from the building on the west side of the addition, produce a play of shadows and light as the day progresses. “When the sun tracks across the elevation, the quality of the shadow is always changing,” said Youtz. “It’s really quite beautiful.”
At either end of their metaphorical vitrine, the architects confronted the challenge of engaging with the original concrete structure. “It was a big struggle about how we did that and did it well,” recalled Youtz. “We didn’t want to introduce more CMU in ways Rudolph didn’t use it.” They opted instead for a greenish-grey zinc system that complements both the cast-in-place and the CMU elements. “We have these bookends where the vitrine meets either the library or the science building, where zinc is expressed on both the outside and inside,” said Youtz. “You get the sense that this is where we’re transitioning from the original exterior to a new condition.”
For Youtz, the opportunity to work on the UMass Dartmouth project was “truly an inspiration. It’s phenomenal to think that when Rudolph was visioning this campus, he was building 1.5 million square feet in the middle of the farm fields.” But beyond its sheer size, Rudolph’s work at the college is remarkable for its focus on the student experience. “One of his major guiding principles was about the collective—so he created all these different spaces where students could share ideas,” said Youtz. “That’s why we wanted to reinvent the library as a social and intellectual hub at the heart of campus, to make it a space where students want to hang out and work.”