At 200, The Athenaeum Thinks About The Library Of The Future

 

Athenaeum, image courtesy of the Athenaeum

Athenaeum, image courtesy of the Athenaeum

With 200 years behind it, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the library and architectural archive on Washington Square, is seeking visions for the library of the future. Tonight, at 5:30, officials will launch an architectural design competition, “Looking Forward: Reimagining the Athenaeum of Philadelphia,” that asks designers and architects to render a new Athenaeum for 2050. Details on the competition are HERE. The best designs will be showcased at a reception on December 5. “This is an opportunity to rethink the Athenaeum as an institution, perhaps even libraries in general, based on how they serve the community,” says competition organizer Bruce Laverty, who has managed the Athenaeum’s large architectural collection since 1983. Much of that collection–26,000 books, 200,000 drawings and 300,000 photographs–covers the 19th century, the most critical period in Philadelphia’s development.

The 2050 designs will be conceptual only–after decades of incremental restoration, the 1847 John Notman designed Italianate Palazzo style building isn’t going anywhere. However, Laverty says the idea of the competition is “to bring together folks to think about libraries and how they might change.” The jurors, who include Billie Tsien, from the firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, designers of the Barnes Foundation Museum (a reimagining of an old institution), and Michelle Delk, of the firm Snøhetta, known globally for reworking libraries and now in the midst of the design for a new Temple University library, will be looking for design vision as much as insight into the ways we will access information and scholarly materials in the future.

Busch Room, Athenaeum photo: Lauren Drapala

Busch Room, Athenaeum photo: Lauren Drapala

The Athenaeum has long been at the center of architectural life in Philadelphia. The original competition in the 1840s that Notman won engaged the nation’s top architects to envision a building that would “disseminate useful knowledge” and become the “pride and ornament of Philadelphia.” In 1871, two decades before the establishment of the first architectural school here (at the University of Pennsylvania), the Athenaeum sought to become the architectural library of the city. A century later, this came to reality. “In Philadelphia, it takes a long time for things to happen, but they do happen,” said Laverty.

Now, he said, the Athenaeum would like both to be at the center of reimagining the library as a civic institution for the 21st century and of architectural life in Philadelphia. To that end, he imagines this may be the first of many architectural competitions to come.

***

For more information: LookingForward@PhilaAthenaeum.org

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Without Remediation, Diamond In The Rough A Risky Play

Without Remediation, Diamond In The Rough A Risky Play

September 22, 2017  |  News

How safe is safe enough? Environmental researcher Coryn Wolk explores the potential public health risks at a youth baseball field built on top of an industrial alloy production site surrounded by an oil refining complex > more

Wayne Junction Moves Forward With Revitalization

Wayne Junction Moves Forward With Revitalization

September 20, 2017  |  News

Developer Ken Weinstein unveils transit-oriented development plans for Wayne Junction district. GroJLart has the story > more

Inside Northeast Philly's Temple Of Ryerss

Inside Northeast Philly’s Temple Of Ryerss

September 19, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us on a fall field trip to the Ryerss Mansion, an eccentric, little-known house museum in the Great Northeast > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Locust Theatre

Unlisted Philadelphia: Locust Theatre

September 14, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places with his architectural illustration series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a marvelous movie house in West Philly > more

Monument Lab: A City-Wide Art Museum That Asks Us To

Monument Lab: A City-Wide Art Museum That Asks Us To “Leave Fingerprints”

September 13, 2017  |  Vantage

We ought to write our own history, say the organizers of Monument Lab, who launch their multi-week public art and civic introspection festival today in the wake of Charlottesville, Dallas, and Durham. Nathaniel Popkin catches up with Monument Lab founder Paul Farber, who asks us all, "What is an appropriate monument for Philadelphia today?" > more

An Original Keeps It Classy On Chestnut Street

An Original Keeps It Classy On Chestnut Street

September 12, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

From furniture and furnace manufacturing to a 1980s video arcade, 1606 Chestnut Street has kept busy for 127 years. The Shadow has the details on this Center City standout > more