Horn Library, renovated in 2019 at Babson College.
WHEN BABSON COLLEGE in Wellesley, Massachusetts, unveiled its newly renovated and expanded Horn Library in August 2019, it revealed a space intended to reinforce the school’s mission-based focus on developing entrepreneurial mindsets. In particular, the objective was to turn an aging facility dominated by book stacks and study carrels into a vibrant heart-of-campus center for collaborative study, group work, and socializing.
Babson initially had hired our design team at Finegold Alexander Architects for a small renovation to the library’s third floor. After students responded positively to the refreshed study areas which featured better lighting, more comfortable furniture, and fewer conventional book stacks, the college asked us to execute a bigger vision for the entire facility.
In its redesign, Horn Library was transformed from:
A repository for books into a place for students to gather. The biggest change to the facility is the Commons, a 10,000-square-foot addition that functions as a prominent arrival and gathering space. Before, the library lacked a clear entranceway. So, we removed the original stepped terrace leading to a split-level library entrance. In its place, we created a more visible and accessible entrance leading into a double-height atrium-style commons with a welcoming forecourt plaza. The Commons houses a four-season garden and a café; it is also the new home of the Stephen D. Cutler Center for Investments and Finance, a mock trading floor space that supports the college’s finance curriculum.
The Commons, which encompasses the entrance and atrium of Babson's Horn Library.
The reimagining of the library space was supported by the fact that the Horn Library has significantly expanded its use of electronic resources, reducing the need to house as many print resources as in the past. Replacing unused book stacks with more study space and additional study rooms has created better flow within the building and helped the space to become more of a learning center on campus, says library director Emily Miles. With its new functionality, “the library will continue with its core mission to foster information discovery, business innovation, and independent lifelong learning in support of entrepreneurial values and scholarship.”
The redesigned library now is home to the school's mock trading room.
Disjointed to integrated. The planning and design of the Commons dovetailed with the major renovation and reconfiguration for the library’s 22,000-square-foot first floor. Before, the library contained disjointed social and gathering spaces that were disruptive to quiet study. Because so many resources are now available digitally, the redesign eliminates stacks of underused books to free up more space for individual and group study.
Horn’s group study spaces accommodate four to eight students. In addition, the first floor incorporates open seating, an accessible entry from the adjacent courtyard, a new circulation desk with secure storage for course materials, a new centralized office for library staff, and a new office for the college’s president.
Granite stairs connect the new addition to an upper level, opening into the library itself. This level features a sound-isolated classroom and two group study rooms, as well as a casual seating area on a mezzanine overlooking the Commons’ atrium space. The space incorporates warm, sophisticated furnishings and finishes provided by Stefura Associates, an interior design firm.
Stairs leading from the library's atrium to study spaces on the second floor.
Dark to light. We wanted the space not only to be filled with light, but also to help people feel visually and spatially connected. We turned to Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting, which recommended the use of acoustic laminated glazing to create greater visibility throughout while also dampening sound. The lighting designers included a skylight and generous use of glass in the addition to provide ample natural daylight.
A second floor gathering space overlooks the Commons.
A separate facility to a central campus hub. Located at the center of campus, the library now has a larger footprint and revitalized program space, and it serves as a central hub with spokes of activity radiating from all directions. Red brick cladding and a large expanse of two-story windows ensure that the library’s exterior blends into the school’s existing traditional and contemporary architecture.
The landscape and pathways, designed by Stimson Associates Landscape Architects, surround the addition to address the myriad ways students move throughout the campus. The intent for administrators was for the space to function as both a destination and a gateway.
Like other academic libraries, Horn Library closed its doors in March due to COVID-19. “It was sad to say goodbye to the physical space. Our beautifully renovated space sat unused and untouched while we stayed safe at home,” says Miles. But this change, she adds, demonstrated just how well the library can serve its purpose as either physical gathering space or a virtual learning space.
“I am heartened by the ways in which library services have gone on uninterrupted,” says Miles. “When we could not access our physical collection, we worked to ensure that access to our e-resources remained continuous. Librarians met virtually with faculty and students to support their research needs.”
Ellen Anselone is a principal architect and vice president and Tony Hsiao is a principal architect and director of design at Finegold Alexander Architects in Boston, Massachusetts.
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