Historical Studies/Social Sciences Library

Architect: Wallace K. Harrison

Date of Construction: 1962-1965

Materials: concrete, glass, teak wood

Floors: 2: one above, one below ground

Use: library

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Built by Wallace K. Harrison, of Harrison & Abramovitz, between 1962-1965, the Historical Studies/Social Sciences Library is an elegant combination of colors, lines, and geometry. The project was initiated by J. Robert Oppenheimer, who invited Harrison to the Institute of Advanced Studies to execute the building. Harrison expands the severe International Style to a wider mix of materials; the library is not just made of glass and concrete, wooden panels also grace the facade providing a smoother fit into the surrounding fields and forests. The mix of materials provides the structure with a rich variety of texture: reflective and transparent with the glass, solid white, and a rich red-brown of the wood panels that alternate in horizontal and vertical patterns.  Rigid shapes also soften to include curved ceiling skylights, interesting architectural elements that jut out of the straight roofline and a floor plan that is a combination of rectangles grouped together in an irregular pattern.

The library consists of two floors, one above ground and one below. The main floor sits wedged between a concrete platform that is 68×80 feet and a concrete roof.(1) A series of thin white columns, spaced twenty feet apart, support the overhanging eves of the roof, helping to lessen the extreme horizontality of the building. Teak wood boards are laid into irregular patterns that contrast the horizontal stress and the verticality that the supports achieve. Slightly separated from the rest of the library, a mathematics wing echos the same exterior but is separated by a glass corridor.(2)

Harrison paid special care not only to the exterior of the building but to the interior. The main floor is divided by a ten-foot-wide corridor that separates a reading and service area to the north and the stacks in the south portion of the building.(3) This creates an ideal separation between a quiet space for study and the catalogue of books that receive more traffic. Terrazo and beige wool carpets were the choices for the floor material that provide the library with a mix of a casual and elegant.(4)

One of the most unique features to the library is the roof, where the eves are made up of undulating alcoves that allow natural light to illuminate the building from clerestory windows.(5) The roof is an experiment of “structure, skylighting, air conditioning, and artificial lighting in a single overhead system that serves the entire building”(6).  The structure is made up of glazed concrete beams that span forty feet by five feet across with a wave-like pattern that has concrete on the curve of the wave and glass on the barrel.(7) The glass faces north and daylight streams in and reflects downward, the white concrete further amplifies the light for the interior.

The curvilinear ceiling and the alternation of materials brings the Historical Studies/Social Sciences Library away from the sleek International Style and into its own organic vernacular. The careful and thoughtful design separates the building from the brutalist buildings to the north and the collegiate Federalist styles that dot the rest of the campus.

(1) Libraries and Archives, History and Architecture. Institute for Advanced Study, n.d. Web. 21 March, 2011.*

(2)Libraries and Archives.

(3) Libraries and Archives.

(4) Libraries and Archives.

(5) Greiff, Constance M., Mary W. Gibbons, Elizabeth G. G. Menzies. Princeton Architecture. “A pictorial History of the Town and Campus”. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967. Print, 179, 185.

(6) Libraries and Archives.

(7) Libraries and Archives

(8) Image: Harrison, Wallace K..  Historical Studies-Social Science Library Roof Blue Print. 1962-1965. Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ. Web. 21 March, 2011.

* The information on the Historical Studies-Social Science Library is sourced on the website (http://library.ias.edu/hs/libbuild) from:

Newhouse, Victories. Wallace K. Harrison, Architect. New York: Rizzoli, 1989. Print, 181, 306.


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