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Addition to Rotch will provide necessary space

By Mauricio Rom'an

After nine months of "fast-track" construction work, the addition to Rotch Architecture Library will be finished by the end of May, according to Director of MIT Libraries Jay K. Lucker. The addition is the backbone of a $6.5 million project to enhance and renovate the library.

When the addition is finished, the renovation of the old library building will begin. The enhanced library will be ready for operation by the beginning of the fall semester, Lucker said.

Rotch Library, which now occupies two levels in Building 7, has been in desperate need of renovation for 15 years, Lucker said. More than one third of the library's book and art collection, which is regarded as one of the top two in the nation, is stored off campus. Many books in the library, which is not air conditioned, are deteriorating because of humidity.

The project includes renovating the existing space, adding 22,000 net square feet by expanding into the adjacent courtyard, and improving the environmental conditions. This will result in a tripling of space in the library. The library's seating capacity will increase from 30 to more than 130 students.

Construction began in March 1989 but foundations were not poured until July, Lucker said. The steel structure was then erected, and the concrete slabs poured. Work is being done on the facade, but partition walls and interior finishes remain to be done.

Library operations have been minimally disrupted, Rotch Librarian Margaret E. De Popolo said. Noisy drilling on the walls of the library has been done on weekends, De Popolo said.

In June, library facilities in the present building will be moved to the addition. When the renovation of the existing space is completed, facilities will be moved back and books currently in storage will be put in the addition.

The library's windows were covered up a few days ago due to work being done on the external walls of the building, but De Popolo made the project supervisor promise to open up a small window so Rotch staff can continue to observe the construction process. Projects of this nature can be very entertaining, Professor Barry Zevin maintains, as he amiably repproaches his students for wasting time watching TV when they could all be observing construction projects.

Funding efforts continue

The "Rotch" name would no longer apply to the architecture library if a "naming donation" of at least $2 million were obtained, Deborah J. Cohen, assistant dean for development in the School of Architecture and Planning, said. In any case, the "Rotch" name -- in memory to the first contributor to the library -- will be retained for the new library's reading room, Cohen added.

The School of Architecture and Planning and the MIT libraries are conducting a joint effort to raise funds for the project from external sources. According to Jean P. de Moncheaux, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, a target of at least $3 million has been set. So far, $300,000 have been raised, mostly from two donors who wish to remain anonymous, Cohen said.

For the time being, MIT is financing the project in its entirety. The Institute was committed to the project and regarded it as an "academic priority of extraordinary importance," de Moncheaux said. "I am committed to raise as much money as I possibly can," he added, "[in order] to reduce the burden on MIT." There was no deadline for the fundraising efforts, but "it is MIT's experience that once a project is finished it is more difficult to raise funds," de Moncheaux said.

"It is hard to raise funds for libraries," Cohen said, "especially in MIT's case, where libraries are centralized and alumni feel more attachment to their departments than to the libraries," she added. The School of Architecture and Planning is mailing letters to all of its alumnae asking them for contributions to the project.

Besides the $2 million required to name the library, there were other naming opportunities, Cohen said. For example, for $450,000 a donor can name the limited access area; for $50,000, a reading oasis; for $1000, a BARTON workstation; and for $500, a book truck.

Unusual structural design

Due to site and dimensional constraints, the building's structural system is essentially inverted. The six floors are "hanging" from the top rather than being supported from the bottom. Perimeter columns hold enormous girders on the top of the structure. These girders support hangers, which in turn support the floor slabs.

Since the inner courtyard onto which the library is being expanded serves as truck access for deliveries, the bottom floor of the building had to be elevated 18 feet above the ground. An additional problem was created by the need to maximize area in a limited space. According to local building code the height of the addition cannot exceed that of the existing building.

The solution proposed by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, the project's structural engineers, was to provide a column free interior by suspending the six floors from the roof. The hangers supporting the floor slabs do not consume valuable floor space as they fit between bookstacks.

Further complicating the project were the perimeter columns, which were placed 15 feet from each other and did not leave enough room for trucks to turn around. To accommodate the trucks, two of the columns were divided at the fourth level into an "A" shape.

"Because the structural system of the addition is very different from that of the existing building, it was not connected to it," project manager Ruben Morrison explained to Modern Steel Construction. Instead, the six foot space between the two buildings was connected with a glass-enclosed atrium.

Initially, Professor of Architecture Imre Halasz's firm had been retained to study different design alternatives. The firm submitted a plan to expand the library into the courtyard. This plan was reviewed and approved by the Institute in 1985. However, an administration policy change mandating that MIT not retain the services of faculty members for professional work prevented MIT from hiring Halasz's firm.

Schwartz/Silver Architects from Boston was then selected to do the redesign. "We really wanted to express the structure," project architect Ann W. Pitt said to Modern Steel Construction. She added that "the building is a celebration of the school's architecture collection."