AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn

In 1965 Louis I. Kahn was commissioned by the Phillips Exeter Academy to design a library for the school. The Academy had been planning the new library for fifteen years but were consistently disappointed with the designs that the hired architects and committee were proposing. The Academy was very particular in knowing the kind of building they wanted: a brick exterior to match the Georgian buildings of the school and an interior with the ideal environment for study. Kahn’s sympathetic use of brick and his concerns for natural light met these specific principles that the Academy had in mind for the library, and thus the design fell in his hands.

More information on Louis Kahn’s Phillips Exeter Academy Library after the break.

“The quality of a library, by inspiring a superior faculty and attracting superior students, determines the effectiveness of a school. No longer a mere depository of books and magazines, the modern library becomes a laboratory for research and experimentation, a quiet retreat for study, reading and reflection, the intellectual center of the community.… Fulfilling needs of a school expected eventually to number one thousand students, unpretentious, though in a handsome, inviting contemporary style, such a library would affirm the regard at the Academy for the work of the mind and the hands of man.”

© Flickr - User: ryan_d_cole

People enter the 111′x111′ square library from the ground floor and climb up a grand set of stairs to the first floor. Coming up the last step onto the first floor one can immediately perceive the relationship of reference area, circulation desk, and book stacks. Kahn found this aspect to be important so that visitors can easily understand the plan of the building upon their entrance.

© Flickr: User - yan.da

With the circulation desk on the first floor instead of the ground floor it is evident that service took priority over security. The Academy accepted this at ease since it allowed librarians to be closer to the bookstacks and the readers, therefore making the most sense when considering the function of a circulation desk in a library.

© Flickr - Ed Brodzinsky

The beauty in the architecture of the first floor, however, is what gave the Exeter Library its fame. This main floor reaches 70 feet in height and soaks in natural light from a clerestory at the top of this space and from large expanses of glass on the north and west sides. From this 50 foot square space visitors can spot metal bookstacks and readers seven levels above through large holes punctured perfectly into the walls, almost touching at the corners where the walls square off.

© Flickr - User: o f f s e t

The upper floors contain book stacks for 250,000 volumes, a student computer lab, a viewing area for videotapes and DVDs, listening areas for music, offices for use of faculty members, and 210 specially designed study carrels for students. On these floors are approximately 450 different seating types scattered among the building in different rooms, such as some lounges and on a terrace that encircles the building along the exterior of the fourth floor.

© Flickr - Ed Brodzinsky

Kahn used Exeter brick on the exterior of the nine story building, a material made in Exeter itself and a design factor that was important to the Academy. He also used stone and in the interior, and finished certain aspects of the library in natural wood. The wood contrasted the stone by giving the spaces a sense of warmth and a glow that welcomed readers when the natural light flooded upon this natural material.

© Flickr - User: Kiel Bryant

The Academy was finally content with their new library when it was completed in 1972. Kahn was successful in meeting all of their resquests through his own principles of design. The building is functional and meets the needs of the readers first while still standing as an innovative structure in itself. It is, in Kahn’s words, “the thoughtful making of spaces.” In 1995 the building was officially named the Class of 1945 Library in honor of Phillips Exeter Academy’s eighth principal.

Architect: Louis Kahn
Location: Exeter, New Hampshire
General Contractor: H.P. Cummings Construction Company
Structural Engineer: Keast and Hood Company
Mechanical/Electrical Engineers: Dubin-Mindell-Bloome Associates
Project Year: 1965-1972
Project Footprint: 12,321 square feet
Photographs: Depending on the photograph:On Flickr: Ed Brodzinsky,yan.da, ryan_d_coleKiel Bryant, and offset. Drawings from
References: Phillips Exeter Academy

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn" 09 Jun 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Adam

    Beautiful library, at the risk of sounding cliche, Kahn is one of my favorites. And if anyone doesn’t already know, that video at the top is all computer generated.

  • mattguetta

    For those who don’t know :

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  • Nicholas Patten

    AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library).

  • Anulfo

    The Exeter Library, one of New England's most gorgeous #Modern buildings! Film by Alex Roman

  • tomo

    AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn (ArchDaily)

  • 栁美

    AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn (ArchDaily)

  • James Droske

    I would have liked St. Cloud State so much more had they had some cool buildings like this:

  • daniel

    incredible work by the third and the seventh

    I’ts incredible what you can get with renders nowadays, amazin work donde by just one guy

  • Restore Media

    RT @EvolvingCritic: The Exeter Library, one of New England's most gorgeous #Modern buildings! Film by Alex Roman

  • oscar aramendi

    AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn | ArchDaily < excelente muestra de arquitectura

  • Tino Chow

    An extremely beautiful of Louis Kahn's Exeter Library

  • Olesya Balashova

    AD Classics: Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) / Louis Kahn #architecture #interior * like the interior… & video

  • Comitant

    Nice work, esp. the last shots.
    What’s the rendering engine?

    A minor note: for these amazing videos, shorter is better. If you edit 50% out (there are many repetitions) it becomes harder hitting.

  • Mies van der Rohe

    Exeter Library / Louis Kahn No words can describe the emotion. conveyed by this building.

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  • Dane Teegardin

    What Louis Kahn has created here is a prime example of modernism acting upon spacial design. Supported by his use of materials, forms, and light qualities, each room is a product of innovation and an expression of modern ideas. The Exeter Library really stands out as a monument to its time, it is no surprise that it was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award.