Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is the largest building in the world dedicated to the containment and preservation of rare books, manuscripts, and documents. It was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill and is located in New Haven, Connecticut. Prior to the completion of this project, Yale University placed its rare books on special shelving in Dwight Hall, which was the Old Library in the late 19th century. In 1930 these special books were relocated to Rare Book Room collection in the Sterling Memorial Library. The Beinecke library was a gift from the Beinecke family, and since 1963 has accomodated six major collections in its rare and marvelous structure that coincides with the literary gems it stores, including those from the Rare Book Room. The major collections are the General Collection, which are divided into the General Collection of Early Books and Manuscripts and the General Collection of Modern Books and Manuscripts, the Collection of American Literature, the Collection of German Literature, the Collection of Western Americana, and the Osborn Collection of British Literary and Historical Manuscripts.
More information and images of the library after the break. The main concern that both SOM and Yale University considered in the design of the library was the preservation of the documents within it. The challenge was to provide ample lighting in the interior for people to study and read and to make it a pleasantly habitable space while limiting the amount of light that affects the stored volumes. The response became a beautiful choice of classic materials gleaming amongst the neo-Classical and neo-Gothic buildings surrounding the library in the Hewitt University Quadrangle on the campus.
Made of Vermont marble and granite, bronze and glass, the exterior gives the illusion that the building is completely solid when viewed from the outside. It’s “windows,” blocked in a consistent linear rythmn along the exterior, consist of white, gray-veined marble panes that are one and one-quarter inches thick and are framed by shaped light gray Vermont Woodbury granite. The sleak marble allows for enough light to filter into the interior spaces without damaging the collections. The structure that frames these rectangular blocks consists of of Vierendeel trusses, high, and 88′ and 131′ long, which transfer their loads to four massive corner columns. The trusses are made out of of prefabricated, tapered steel crosses which are covered with grey granite on the outside and with precast granite aggregate concrete on the inside.
The beauty of the library is enhanced by the large open plaza in which it is located. Visitors enter from the ground level into a glass-enclosed lobby that reveals the grand exhibition hall that holds the books. Beneath this level are two stories which contain the mechanical equiptmnt and large book stack space on the lower level, and another stack space, catalog and reference room, reading room and staff offices arranged around a sunken court designed by Isamu Noguchi on the upper level.
When visitors first enter the building they are faced by two large marble staircases that ascend up to the mezzanine level and a large glass tower that is the central core of the building. The mezzanine level allows for people to rotate around the glass tower which holds 180,000 volumes, centralizing the main purpose of the library. In total the library presently holds 500,000 volumes and several million manuscripts, and SOM’s design serves to preserve and glorify the billions of words inscribed inside each rare book.
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Client: Yale University
Project Area: 125,262 square feet
Project Year: Completed in 1963
Photographs: Courtesy of Ezra Stoller of Esto Photographics
References: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill