The recontextualization of Yale’s Cross Campus Library as the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Library presented a unique opportunity to consider the transformation of the university library in an age of digital information. Bass incorporates new models for study environments and state-of-the art systems within an often constraining preexisting structure located below one of Yale’s most ‘sacred’ spaces. This is one of the most heavily-used study environments on campus.
The new library not only provides facilities related to the collection but a variety of study options and promotes movement from the Sterling Memorial Library through Bass and the Cross Campus Green. Bass houses a 150,000 volume ‘intensive-use’ collection, circulation, reserve and staff facilities, open study areas, individual and group study rooms, classrooms, electronic classrooms and a study lounge/café which also serves as a social space for the university community. These functions occupy the structural shell of the former Cross Campus Library, which opened in 1970 and came to be underutilized, lacked current mechanical and information systems, and did not support current study patterns.
The project and renovation of related portions of the Sterling Memorial Library reinvented the former arrangement to accommodate current media, study and instruction models within an architectural environment that reinforces and resonates with the broader context of a significant Collegiate Gothic campus ensemble. The scope included the complete reconstruction of the underground library, a new ground-level entry pavilion at the green, redesign of the stair and tunnel sequence connecting Bass to historic Sterling Library, and an extensive furnishings program that includes custom designed lighting, furniture and decorative arts elements that exhibit a variety of expressions, from traditional to modern.
A simple, legible organization around a central spine allows for spaces with a broad range of character and function to coexist within a cohesive ensemble. An open plan of structural piers, filled with glazed screens or paneled partitions are combined to allow separation with a visual continuity that relieves the often claustrophobic aspects of underground buildings. Prominent stairways and two-story high study spaces at the building’s perimeter provide visual and spatial continuity between the library’s two levels. Day-lit courtyards are surrounded by open study lounges.
A new pavilion and courtyard design allowed for the green space above to be restored to something closer to its original appearance, and new entrance courts situated along a major pedestrian path engage the library with the campus above. The above-ground presence of the library recalls its Collegiate Gothic neighbors, while below, a more transformative vocabulary suggests a loft-like undercroft for the quadrangle above.
Crittall steel windows comprise one of the defining architectural elements of the Library’s exterior and interior spaces. Crittall was used for all windows as well as interior partitions where visual continuity was desired but secure separation of spaces and acoustic privacy were also necessary. The system was enhanced with the application of custom-designed castings and rolled-steel profiles that, together with the standard extrusions, provide texture and scale and evoke Yale’s extraordinary examples of gates, grilles and ornamental metalwork.
Photography: Timothy Hursley
This case study is based on architectural comment and submitted entry photography for recent entry in our Crittall Architectural Prize