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Arts

Redesign for Cabot Science Library

10.9.13

Exterior view of the Cabot Science Library in the Science Center, as it exists today, before planning begins for a comprehensive renovation

Exterior view of the Cabot Science Library in the Science Center, as it exists today, before planning begins for a comprehensive renovation

Photo courtesy of Harvard Public Affairs & Communications

Collaborative spaces for "making and doing" will be part of the reimagined library.

Collaborative spaces for "making and doing" will be part of the reimagined library.

Photo courtesy of Harvard Public Affairs & Communications

Cabot Science Library will be renovated and reimagined as a cutting-edge teaching and learning space, Faculty of Arts and Science dean Michael Smith announced today. The project, funded by a “generous gift” according to a press release, also seeks to better integrate the library with other actively used spaces at the Science Center, including the café and courtyard, as well as the popular outdoor plaza nearby, itself recently renovated.

“The Cabot Science Library is ripe for re-imagining, and its prime location in the heart of the Science Center offers an opportunity to serve as an undergraduate teaching, learning, and research support hub for all the disciplines now requiring digital resources,” Smith said in a press release.

The renovation will include an examination of the library’s relationship to existing and possible future programs in the Science Center, likely including a visualization lab and a digital-media research commons. Jeremy Bloxham, dean of the FAS Division of Science, noted that “technological advances have now changed the ways in which” faculty members and students access and use journals and other materials in their scholarship. “We envisage a center for technology-based learning that will allow our students and faculty to take full advantage of the digital resources that new technologies provide,” he wrote, “not just for the sciences, but for scholarship in and across all areas of academic inquiry.”

The Science Center atrium will also be redesigned as part of the project. Professor of Romance languages and literature (and affiliated professor to the department of architecture) Jeffrey Schnapp, faculty director of Harvard’s metaLAB, will chair the faculty committee providing input for the design process. Schnapp, who knows something of the history of the Sert-designed building, said in an interview that it offers far greater potential for use than the existing layout provides. This is an “opportunity to really energize that building in ways that I am sure Sert intended,” he said, noting that the original designs had been extensively altered over time.

“What is a science library today?” Schnapp asked. “A science library is not just a storage system for paper documents. It will surely have some stack structure and some of those traditional functions, but in the name of innovation, [this project will lead to] thinking about what such a knowledge space looks like, how it ought to intersect with other kinds of social spaces and classroom teaching spaces. This is an opportunity to think more imaginatively about how the library interacts with informal spaces of learning and exchange. How do we create a model of a library that is a real place of knowledge production for the twenty-first century?”

Within the library itself, Schnapp said, what exists now “is a stratification of function: storage, study spaces, reading rooms. I can't imagine any architect or designer today who would repeat that pattern.” More collaborative spaces for “making and doing” are likely to appear in the reimagined Cabot library.

Schnapp said that even though the design brief would focus on the library, café, and courtyard, the hope was to find ways to visually reintegrate as many as possible of the Science Center’s now segregated functions and spaces, ranging from the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (which looks onto the courtyard; see the images and description in this Harvard Magazine feature), to the basement computer-lab spaces and perhaps even the technology store there.

An architect is currently being sought for the project.

The official news release can be found here.

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Click on arrow at right to see full statue and additional images
Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, a thirteenth-century Japanese icon made of wood with inlaid quartz eyes

Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr., 2019.122.

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