Explained: Avoiding an eyesore

BY BETH WITTENSTEIN

Published January 10, 2008

With its sharp angles and glass walls, the Law Library is notably different from the original buildings in the Law Quadrangle. And, of course, it's underground.

But the University's reason for building a subterranean study space isn't immediately clear.

According to information compiled by the Bentley Historical Library, architect Gunnar Birkerts designed the library underground to avoid stealing attention from the other Gothic-style buildings while staying within budget.

The construction of the Law Library, which began in 1974 and was largely funded by Law School alumni, had a final price tag of $9.5 million. It was completed in 1981.

Building the library underground solved the problem of preserving the open space and keeping the Law Quad open.

The library's carefully structured design allows the entire 77,000 square-foot underground building to be lit by natural light. The L-shaped building exists as a single open space, allowing light to filter through.

The floors of the library are arranged as trays irregularly stacked so that the bottom floor can be seen from the top of the stairs on the first floor.

The major source of light is filtered though a V-shaped structure outside the building, consisting of 160 feet of mirrored glass along the library's side and limestone panels on the other.

The angles and reflective nature of the glass allow maximum light to shine through and reach all areas of the library.

To further stretch the breadth of natural light within the building, about three feet of glass separate the top of office walls from the ceiling. "Borrowed light" therefore passes from the main room into the individual offices.

Organization within the building also contributes to eliminating the "trapped underground" feeling one might feel in such a building.

The design aims to bring the bright, open feeling of an above-ground library to a library three floors deep. Desks and workspaces are located closer to the window wall, while books are located farther back.

BETH WITTENSTEIN