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Music Library Goes From Flat to Sharp and Natural


Helen Lin--The Tech
After several months of renovations, the Rosalind Denny Lewis Library has opened its doors.

By Eva Moy
Staff Reporter

It may seem ironic to design a library to let in as much light as possible or for a music library to be soundproof. But the recently renovated Rosalind Denny Lewis Music Library opened its doors again a few weeks ago and has been greeted with praise and surprise.

This opus - created by a quartet of MIT architects, artists, a composer, and the music librarians - took the challenge of creating something artistic and functional to produce a room that could be described as both.

Students use the facility for humanities classes, musicians come to prepare for rehearsal, and others just want to come and listen to music. "The music library has always seen a lot of use," said Music Librarian Peter A. Munstedt. "The time had come for this library to look better and more comfortable."

While the improvements in the offices and circulation desk have made the staff happy, the greatest reaction has come from patrons of the library, Munstedt said. "Some of [the students] are in shock" when they walk in, he said.

"There are a lot more people here," said Louise D. Forrest '98, who works at the circulation desk. "Some people actually come here just to study, not just to listen to music."

"It's just a lot nicer," said Lydia S. Tse '99. There is a "different atmosphere compared to the other libraries."

There are still a few finishing touches to be completed before the formal dedication on Dec. 4, said Melanie R. Brothers, staff architect in Physical Plant.

Although Munstedt and Brothers would not reveal the total cost of the project, they did say that the construction cost was about a half million dollars, half of which was provided by Cherry Emerson '41. "We got our money's worth," Munstedt said.

The renovation of the Music Library follows other major projects for the music and theater arts section of the Department of Humanities undertaken in the past several years.

The Rinaldi Tile building on Carleton Street was transformed for theater groups' use, and practice rooms in Building 4 were renovated. Building N52 will house the proposed World Music Center that Associate Provost for the Arts Alan Brody announced on Oct. 28.

Music theme subtly prevails

The dominating effect through the sun-filled room of the library is an openness and fluidity created by the sweeping curves of the mezzanine railing and the informal furniture. The room was designed to be as "light and open" as possible, Brothers said.

The musical motif is repeated throughout the fabric of the listening carrels and the five parallel score lines etched in the office windows. Perhaps the centerpiece of the music library is the glass panels of the mezzanine, with Institute Professor of Music John H. Harbison's cannon, written in the composer's own hand.

"The original idea was doing holograms of scores," Silverman said. But the final decision was made in favor of something "which you noticed but wouldn't knock you over the head" as you walked into the library.

The team had toyed with the idea of using a different composer for each glass panel but decided it would be most appropriate to use Harbison's work, Brothers said. Artist John W. Powell SM '89 created the sandblasted glasswork and also worked with the architects and Harbison throughout the process.

Early on, the architects agreed on the concept of the curved railing of the mezzanine, Silverman said. Brothers pointed out that because there is a curve, a person still cannot see all the panels at once because of the partial glare of the sunlight. Like the original hologram concept, only parts of the panels are visible at any given time.

Room has variety of environments

The changes were mostly architectural or artistic, and they affected the layout of the room, ultra-violet-filtered lighting, the sound system for special concerts, and the curve of the mezzanine with sandblasted glasswork.

The new library offers a variety of features and study environments. On the first floor, immediately past the circulation desk and reference books, there are several large tables for studying. The music collection is on the left, out of the path of the sunlight. A circle of adjustable furniture lies straight ahead.

In the very back, the special collections room is shielded from the sunlight. In addition, the room includes both temperature and humidity control.

At the top of the mezzanine stairs there is a listening lounge with individual stations that offer a more informal setting. "As the guy was installing them, people sat down right away," Brothers said.

Around the corner is the group listening room, a double-glassed, gasket-sealed room where students will be able to watch videos on a large screen television. Following against the back wall are staff offices and group meeting rooms.

A large portion of the mezzanine holds the 22 new listening carrels, each featuring a combination of compact disc players, laser disc players, turntables, and televisions. The carrels were chosen because they offered both space and privacy, Brothers said.

The biggest non-structural change was a new computerized catalog that replaced the old card-based system.

Because the old library did not use the vertical space of its high ceiling, the architects had to introduce steel beams as the floor support for the mezzanine.

Brothers was worried that it would "feel like a cave" so high up, but indirect lighting solved that problem.

The collections were not significantly expanded during the renovation, although many of the changes were made with future extensions in mind. They wanted to "make sure this is something that will last 25 or 30 years," Silverman said.

The compact shelves which move on rollers allow more shelves to fit in the same area, providing ample space for future expansion of the collection. In addition, the special collections room has extra shelf space, and the listening carrels are set up for future network connections.