Snake in the glass

James
24 Feb 2010

Sinuous transparent building for budding legal professionals

The 114,000 sq ft Lewis Katz Building at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law establishes an inspired, progressive and engaging center for legal education in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The focal point of the building is the glass-enclosed law library with a volume capacity of 100,000 books. Drawing from the idea that the law library is the theoretical and physical heart of the legal education experience in which students spend most of their time, the building is conceived as a transparent, floating element, a conceptual roof, sheltering the rest of the program beneath it.

The sinuous building form, a direct response to the presence of the surrounding mountains and geology of the valley, is clad in glass to create a constantly changing backdrop of reflected sunlight throughout the day and a beacon of light at night. Within, the library is conceived as a continuous looping circulation system, providing several different types of study environments with different views of the surrounding landscape. Beneath this floating aerial form is its counterpart, an earthbound series of volumes clad in local sandstone that contain the classrooms, auditorium and courtroom. These elements surround a broad commons area that opens to the landscape and follows its stepping contours, directly connecting the school’s interior programs to the surrounding campus.

Beneath the library, the ground plane flows unimpeded, linking interior and exterior space to foster the feeling of openness and accessibility emblematic of the school’s progressive goals. The building includes a 250-seat auditorium; a moot courtroom equipped with the latest in trial technology; large classrooms as well as intimate seminar rooms; legal clinic and student organisations suites; and outdoor terraces and reading gardens. Nearly every inch of the Lewis Katz Building is designed to draw students and faculty together in a close community in which students develop the analytical, communication and interpersonal skills the legal profession requires.

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