Rhode Island School of Design Unveils New Fleet Library

Rhode Island School of Design Unveils New Fleet Library

Rhode Island School of Design Unveils New Fleet Library 01

Fleet Library, Main Floor and Circulation Island, photograph courtesy David O'Conner 2006

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) will unveil its new Fleet Library at RISD on October 7, 2006. This innovative project transforms an historic Beaux- Arts banking hall into a full-service, contemporary library, and the floors above into a flexible, mixed-use facility. Designed to serve as the student library for the renowned college of art and design, the Fleet Library will also be a connecting gateway to the wider Providence community, enlarging RISD's presence in the downtown area by serving as a resource for cultural programs and a site of interaction between the College and the growing creative community that is redefining Providence.

The new facility, designed by RISD alumnus Nader Tehrani and partner Monica Ponce de Leon, principals of the Boston-based architecture firm Office dA, will allow the school to better fulfill its mission as a training ground for visually-creative and socially-engaged artists and designers by giving them more direct contact with the tangible sources that provide understanding of and inspiration for their own work. Above the two floors of the library, nine floors of living/learning space add nearly 500 units of campus housing. The Fleet Library is one of the first projects to open as part of RISD's "Future by Design" campaign that is strategically guiding the institution as it strengthens its position as one of the country's premiere art and design schools.

The library is currently open for summer session students, and will be formally dedicated in October during RISD's alumni weekend. There will be an extensive program of special events in honor of the project's completion, including: "For RISD," a series of truism projections on the exterior of the library by RISD alumna Jenny Holzer. Holzer will introduce a new truism each evening for four nights, October 7-10. Also on October 7 will be the city's award-winning installation on the three rivers of downtown Providence, "Waterfire Providence" by artist Barnaby Evans. Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington will deliver the keynote address for the library dedication.

"We are excited to be able to grow in ways that are specifically designed to not only meet the unique requirements of our creative and visually-driven student body, but also to lead by example. This historic reinvigoration shows our students how the lessons they are learning in the classroom translate directly into the real world and are at the heart of RISD, both philosophically and physically," remarked Roger Mandle, President, Rhode Island School of Design. "The Fleet Library ensures that students will study and gather in a space whose form and function are strategically intertwined, where respect for history and beauty balance ingenuity and technological advances, and in which sustainable, dynamic design has provided solutions to budget restrictions, historic preservation challenges, and the desires of diverse users."

The monumental 55,000 square foot library-almost four times larger than the former library-expands access to the library's extensive collections of artists' books, periodicals, slides and image files, art reproductions, sound and video recordings, and special collections of design portfolios, archives, and materials research. The previous library's limited space meant most of the collection was accessed only through a call system. The new library will have open stacks for over 100,000 volumes on the ground floor, with a separate area for Archives, Special Collections, and other visual resources on the second floor. While incorporating comprehensive, fully-wired digital resources, RISD's investment in the Fleet Library reflects the continued importance of the tangible substance of books and images, so critical for understanding design, color, layout, and materiality as part of a visual studies program.

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Fleet Library, Reading Room and Stair Pavilion, photograph courtesy David O'Conner 2006

Fleet Library Design
The library will serve a variety of needs within the life of the College - not only as an academic resource, but also as a gathering place, a site for art-making, a place to come together or be alone. The re-imagining of the bank's great hall has therefore also focused on the multifaceted needs of this unique student body and maximum flexibility so it can evolve as the College evolves. Filling the role of a campus hub, the main reading room has been designed to act as a campus living room where groups can exchange ideas, and individuals can meet and interact. At the northern end of the room, a new multi-level study/gathering platform breaks up the hall and adds a balcony tier to the first floor. The study island on top has flexible seating to accommodate group or individual study. Housed underneath the stair pavilion are individual work carrels on each side, as well as two classrooms, a group study area, and video viewing room below. The balcony level and stairs leading to it provide space for informal gathering and study, an easy vantage point for people watching, open platforms for sketching, as well as stadium seating for public events and readings. At the other end of the ground floor a circulation island visually balances the stair pavilion and is the centralized resource for library information, check out, reserve books, and staff guidance. Both of these major structures have been conceived to respect the historic hall and preserve the integrity of the original building features while offering the key resources needed in a contemporary student library.

The second floor of the library unifies RISD's vast collection of visual references and resources making student research more efficient. Large, climate-controlled areas, along with sizable reading rooms for Archives and Special Collections, ensure that these rare materials are accessible while remaining properly cared for. The College's collection of 1,200 artists' books also have their first dedicated study room on the second floor. The Slide Collection space is outfitted with light tables and workstations, as well as a small room for making slides of student work. The Picture Collection's public area gives students plenty of space to view and compare images as well as computer and scanner access for digitizing and gathering the desired files. The second floor also houses extensive administrative offices and technical support areas.

Above the two floors of the library, nine floors of living and work space address a pressing need for more student housing and demonstrate the school's sensitivity to the different ways artists use their living spaces. With so much of the students' work focused on art-making, flexible living space that is located close to the research hub of the library allows for an organic, continual process of learning, experimentation, interaction, and inspiration. Designed with input from the student body, units incorporate an appreciation for the needs of various art disciplines and work styles. Completing the facility's mixed-use approach to meeting the needs of the students, the building houses a new 110-seat cafe, Portfolio.

"Having been at the College as both a student and later as a faculty member, I have a deep appreciation for the philosophy of the institution, and also an intimate understanding of its requirements," said principal architect Nader Tehrani (RISD '86). "I let that knowledge guide me as I imagined a multipurpose space that would enliven the RISD experience."

In addition to showcasing the architecture of Office dA, furniture and decor throughout the library, student housing and cafe draw on the expertise and creativity of the RISD community. Tehrani designed interior details and other alumni designs are used throughout the cafe and library. For the student housing, a collective of RISD faculty, finding nothing on the market that met the school's criteria, came together to design a line of student furniture that meets the highest aesthetic, safety, and functional standards, while using sustainable and affordable materials. In addition to solving their own furnishing needs, the group, working as DEZCO furniture design Ilc, will work to make the line available for use at other institutions. In Portfolio, alumni work is represented in designs from the wall covering to its light fixtures to its overall graphic identity.

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Chace Center Rendering, courtesy Michael O'Beirne (RISD '88)

RISD's Future by Design Campaign
The opening of the Fleet Library is a major project within the larger "Future by Design" campaign, initiated to reinforce RISD's leadership role by strengthening its investments in its students, alumni, faculty and staff, as well as it programs, services, and facilities.

An important part of the initiative is to enhance the school's role in Providence's downtown community and the Rhode Island region. RISD was part of the original effort among Providence leaders to spur economic revitalization by attracting and retaining the creative sector. Working at both the government level - advising on subsidized loft spaces for artists - and at the grassroots level - with student and faculty community outreach - RISD has been a driving force in Providence's renaissance. Now that energy is being channeled into more fully integrating the campus facilities and student life with the growing cultural community in the area.

The completion of the Fleet Library marks a major step in this process, and has received vital support from the local community and government, which recognizes the significant interaction between the College and the growth of the downtown. The library is the fourth major downtown site revitalized by RISD, following the opening of the RISD Center for Integrative Technologies and Fletcher Building graduate facilities, as well as risdworks, a retail store, gallery, and design showroom in the commercial center that features the design products and artworks of the institution's alumni and faculty.

This physical expansion plan will culminate in the 2008 opening of the new Chace Center, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jose Rafael Moneo. The building's location and orientation will unify RISD's downtown presence, visually linking the various components of the campus that weave through the streets.

The Center will serve as a student center, academic facility, and as an extension of the RISD Museum of Art, connected to the original museum building via a third-storey glass bridge. The new complex as a whole embraces all phases of the creative process, with the Center adding gallery, studio, and teaching spaces. The Chace Center's additional gallery and programming spaces will also dramatically enhance access to the Museum's renowned collections, and serve as a springboard to an expanded roster of even more dynamic museum programs that will engage both RISD and the wider Providence and national communities.

In addition to the physical growth of the RISD campus, the successful $85 million "Future By Design" campaign has ensured that RISD has the institutional capacity to anticipate the needs of 21st century designers and advance its mission to nurture creative leadership. Through this careful planning and commitment to its mission, RISD is ensuring that it is in a strong position to remain a leader in its field and its community in the years to come.

About RISD
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has earned a worldwide reputation as the preeminent art and design college in the country. Today, with more than 18,000 alumni, the College enrolls roughly 1,900 undergraduates and 400 graduate students from the United States and almost 50 countries, offering degree programs in the fine arts, architecture, and design disciplines, and art education. Academic programs include research and design initiatives, the exploration of art criticism and contemporary cultural concerns, as well as international exchange programs. Each year, RISD hosts prominent and accomplished artists, critics, and authors to its campus. Included within the College is The RISD Museum of Art, which houses a world-class collection of art-objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and art of all periods from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, as well as the latest in contemporary art.

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