An educated decision

26 Feb 2010

Recapitalising and modernising a landmark law library

The extensive renovation of the University of Chicago’s law library, originally designed by Eero Saarinen in 1959, respected the mid-century modern building yet improved functionality, quality and experience. The design recognised the original vision - keeping the spirit and structural assets intact - yet modernised and reconfigured spaces and building systems for a new, interactive atmosphere. The result is a richer, more engaging home for the law school that is not only conducive to the technologies and methodologies of 21st century learning but also provides them with a competitive edge.

While incorporating some flexibility into the structure, Saarinen designed in a time where professors and students understood teaching to be a rigid, structured affair and learning a more solitary activity. In contrast, 21st century learning environments with informal and interactive spaces for students and faculty can promote a richer, more collaborative experience. To form an atmosphere conducive to contemporary pedagogy and information sharing, the design opened up some of the strictly programmed spaces for classrooms, faculty offices or library stack space into small and large group collaboration areas.

The architects consolidated student services into the third floor to better engage students with the second floor reading room and simplify the student experience between the two floors. The design altered spaces to be multi-functional: sliding wood panels in the library connected the faculty workroom to the reserve book area and mobile bookshelf islands provide the ultimate flexibility. A new entrance area to the third floor provided a designated student break-out space and a new staircase, designed in context with the building, became a focal point, creating a connecting sculpture for the revitalised library.

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