Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


New College Library

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Middlebury College
Original/Historic Place Name: New College Library
Location on Campus: front quadrangle
Date(s) of Construction:
2002-2004original construction Gwathmey Siegel & Associates
Designer: Gwathmey Siegel & Associates
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Contemporary (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, engineering
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Walls: granite, white marble
Roof: lead-coated copper
2004-present (2006)other (technology center)
2004-present (2006)library

In deciding to abandon and recycle the 18 levels, incoherent plan, and technological impediments of its 20th century library (see Starr Library above) and construct an all new structure on the front campus, Middlebury sought to address a number of concerns: to create a facility that will have the adaptability to accommodate current and future needs of newly merged library, media, and information technology operations, that will serve as a student and faculty nerve center for information retrieval and communication, that will serve changing work and study patterns, that will facilitate the service of persons with physical and learning disabilities, and that will refine the physical campus plan.

To these ends the building was conceived as neutral loft space with eighteen-foot floor-to-floor dimensions, subdivided into twelve-foot ceiling heights and six feet of technology space between channelized floors. At the same time that they are configured to facilitate technological adjustment, the floors are also structured to have the eventual ability to carry compact shelving (an option that, if exercised, would permit extra decades of collection growth). The core of the building is arranged in three such floors, entered at mid level and tied visually by a full-height atrium. Around this core (compactly square so as to minimize peripheral exposure and energy loss) are inserted compensatory mezzanine floors to maximize daylit work and study areas in a format rather like the peopled perimeter of Louis Kahn's library at Phillips Exeter.

On the entry level this perimeter is taken up with services--circulation, reserves, reference, information technology helpdesk, writing and resource center, assisted learning, reconfigurable smart classrooms on raised deck floors, multi-media work stations, group viewing facilities. On the lower level it accommodates administrative, programming, and technical services functions. On the upper levels it incorporates reading rooms, faculty studies, group studies, and carrels. All seats (lounges, tables, carrels) are wired for access to the central network. To accommodate student learning patterns there are a 24-hour-study-cum-cyber-café at the entrance to the building and an abundance of group studies and mutli-media facilities along with very private work spaces.

The building is set at the front edge of campus as an interface between college and village. It occupies the site of the former 80,000 sq. ft. Science Center (an overscaled 1968 brutalist building that had created a barrier toward the village). Its removal, effected through a deconstruction process that recycled 97% of the materials, was conceived as a gesture at correcting an acknowledged urbanistic faux pas and creating a new landscaped edge to the campus. At the same time the new building is set to serve as an eastern terminus for the important Chapel-Walk axis, binding it to the central organization of the campus. Its mass, with a curving façade toward campus, is conceived in the tradition of rotunda libraries like those at the University of Virginia, Union College, and Columbia University--significant objects in space set at the end of strategic vistas. Its visible metal roofs, punched window rhythms, proportional systems, and use of front-campus stone and marble relate it to its context, while Gwathmey-Siegel's classicized modernism makes the point that this is a sophisticated contemporary addition to the campus. Interior wood finishes--paneling, door and window frames, end panels, carrels, desks--are all of sustainable harvested lumber, much of it from the college's own Bread Loaf forests. The construction of these details and of much of the furniture has been awarded at competitive cost to in-state mills and shops, helping to rebuild a regional economy that had been badly hit by the closure of a number of multi-national furniture operations in Vermont.

The library is a building that provides the college with a proud new monument that builds from the specifics of the campus plan and its architectural traditions. At the same time it serves as a demonstration piece for responsible community, environmental, and economic planning, acknowledging the important public role that can be played within its region by an enlightened institution acting in accord with the values it seeks to instill in its students.


Jenks-Jay, Nan. "Cultivating a Shared Environmental Vision at Middlebury College." In Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change. ed. Peggy F. Barlett and Geoffrey W. Chase, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004: 293-310.


Contact us / About Site / About CIC
© 2006
Council of Independent Colleges
Washington, DC
All rights reserved
Last update: November 2006