One of the major architectural figures of the 20th century, Rober Venturi (1925-2018), helped shape the way architects, students and planners look at architecture. This renowned architect formed Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA), along with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown. Not only did they contribute immensely towards shaping the architecture of the Postmodern era, but were also active writers, teachers and theorists with radical ideas.
Based in Philadelphia, USA, they were the first to question the premises of Postmodern architecture by advocating “less is bore” as opposed to Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more”.
Robert Venturi’s perspective on architecture can be understood through his manifesto “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture”. He is a counterrevolutionary architect trying to bring back the intangible details in architecture, being the critic of the purely functional and rigid modern architecture that he is. Influenced by early masters like Michelangelo and Palladio, and modern masters like Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Eero Saarinen and Alvar Alto, this Pritzker Prize winner constantly drew lessons from architecture history and believed that it helped inspire contemporary architecture.
He embraced the full range of the world’s architecture and aspired to maintain continuity while staying relevant to the times. One among many popular buildings designed by him, the Baker-Berry library is a testament to his values, philosophy and teamwork.
Baker-Berry Library: Background and History
The Baker-Berry Library by Robert Venturi is one of the most noteworthy architectural attractions in New Hampshire, USA. Serving as the main library at Dartmouth College, It is a classic combination of old and new, the old being the Baker Memorial Library built in 1928, and the new being the Berry addition in 2000-2002. The old library building, the college’s beloved social sciences and humanities centre, was designed by Jens Frederick Larson.
In the late 20th century, it was restored and renovated, along with the addition of a whole new complex designed by VSBA of Philadelphia and Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott of Boston.
Standing 200 ft. above the campus ground, the Baker’s tower was designed after the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, serving as an iconic representation of the college. Originally the library could accommodate up to 240,000 volumes but increased gradually with infrastructural expansion over the years. The Berry construction by Robert Venturi doubled the size of the existing facility, giving place to over 2 million copies today!
In the lower half of the library, the fresco, The Epic of American Civilization, was painted by José Clemente Orozco, which is now a National Historic Landmark and a favourite spot of the artsy visitors and students.
Concept and Design
The Berry complex essentially serves as a symbol of the physical and academic expansion of the campus. It occupies a pivotal point on the site, acting as a focus at the crossroads between the old and the new campuses. Extending the library north, the Berry addition anticipates and aids orderly development of the campus in that direction. The north-facing facade of the new Baker-Berry Library functions as the endpoint of the axis of the future northern development, while the old Baker Library faces College Green to the south.
Rober Venturi’s vision for the library was for it to accommodate a ‘street’ that links the new addition with the old along the north-south axis. This, with the existing east-west passage in the Baker building, forms a crossroads at the centre of the campus, buzzing with students and activities. The Baker and Berry are separated by a vertical stack, for people to study and work, with the street passing through the ground floor.
The library’s major public service functions are arranged along the street. Besides informal study spaces, lounge spaces, meeting rooms and classrooms, a cafeteria at the ground level overlooks the academic row. Carson Hall has its own identity in the new block, housing classrooms and History Department. The arcade along the new facade gives it a public identity and defines an important east-west pedestrian route on the campus.
This new complex design by Robert Venturi catered to all the needs of a growing educational establishment. It added both individual and collaborative study spaces, included a new staff office, helped in bringing public service areas closer to each other, provided enhanced computing systems, a new media centre, classrooms and break-out spaces.
The original Baker Library was revamped to make room for new mechanical systems and comply with the current fire and life safety regulations. Certain traditional reading rooms and grand public spaces were carefully restored. The makeover of the Webster hall into the Rauner Special Collections library beautifully honours the existing building.
Criticism and Opposition Received
Though admired by the majority of the people of New Hampshire, this iconic combination of the old and new was not short of criticism. Jens Frederick Larson’s neo-Georgian Baker library with cosy spaces, warm textures and old wood, adjacent to Rober Venturi’s radical approach to the new complex with lights, signs and playfulness, created quite an unrest in the minds of the faculty and design reviewers.
However, this contrast in style is admired by visitors who enjoy seeing ‘old within the new’, giving a refreshing identity to the educational spaces in Hanover, New Hampshire, which resonates with the growing urban character of the town.