Librarys Matheson Reading Room may be brand new, but it
feels like a place of venerable, scholarly dignitywhich
is just as its designers intended.
echo and voices carry in the capacious reading room, encouraging
those using it to speak in whispers if they must speak at all.
We wanted it to be a loud, boomy place, so that people
would be quiet, says Nancy Bayly, facilities planning
coordinator for Emory College and a member of the Candler renovation
planning team. Its a reading room, not a conversation
is a conversation piece, however. Restored to its original two-story
height, the reading room once again serves as the centerpiece
of Candler Library, with all its old grandeur on proud display.
Dark, gleaming wood tables unencumbered by computer wiring,
heavy chairs, hand-crafted book and periodical shelving, graceful
hanging chandeliers, and a noble row of arched windows recall
the rooms former state, when for some thirty years it
was the heart of academic life on campus.
in 1926, Candler Library was a gift of Asa Griggs Candler and
the Universitys first library building on the Atlanta
campus. Upon its dedication, the library was hailed as one of
the Souths finest in both beauty and utility.
its exterior of Georgia marble, scoured and polished until it
gleams, the new structure nestles within the enclosing pines
like a scintillating gem spreading over the quadrangle rays
of reflected beauty, read a poetic editorial in the
Emory Alumnus magazine. The library holds a commanding
position on campusa location quite in keeping with the
central importance of the library in a university system.
the center of the librarys third floor was a two-story
lobby that housed circulation services (left). Ringing the four
walls of the lobby, halfway between the floor and the skylights,
was a plaster frieze, a replica of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsens
depiction of The Triumphal Entry of Alexander into Babylon.
The original frieze had been commissioned in 1811 for a visit
by Napoleon to Rome, and the twenty-one-panel Candler copy was
purchased from Boston plaster artists Caproni and Brother for
the library opened, a columnist for the Emory Wheel wrote
breathlessly about the frieze, calling Candler on the whole
a most magnificent structure.
the 1950s, however, Emory had far outgrown its gem. To make
space for burgeoning library collections and various academic
needs, the reading room was halved horizontally, effectively
doubling the floor space but ruining the aesthetic of the room.
The 1957 renovation, the brainchild of then-Director of Libraries
Guy Lyle, was the subject of controversy, but Lyle saw no alternative
and weathered the storm.
that time the frieze was removed, panel by panel, and boxed
up like so many Christmas decorations with no next year in sight.
Some forty years layer it was rediscovered in the librarys
attic, dusty and water-stained, and fixed up with the help of
Friends of the Emory University Libraries. Alexander and his
entourage were then installed in Woodruff Library for a time,
but when the Candler renovation was completed it was agreed
the frieze should return to its first home.
of the Candler renovation called their project Reclaiming
the Grandeur, and spent months studying photos and documents
about Candler, as well as visiting other libraries with old-style
reading rooms, to develop their vision. The building was almost
totally gutted during the two-year, $17-million renovation,
an ironic necessity in the process of making it more like its
former self. Whenever possible, the designers paid homage to
the original structure: marble discovered on the floors of the
stacks was recycled as stairs, bathroom counters, and tabletops;
the wall directory uses a font from the 1926 University yearbook;
experts painstakingly restored the detailed plaster work in
the reading room; glass windows over the doorways echo the original
transom design; and the striking color scheme, with hues of
pale green, warm yellow, and soft blue, recalls that of the
first Candler Library.
modern changes include a ten-thousand-square-foot addition on
the north side of the building. An enclosed bridge links Candler
Librarys third floor with Woodruff Library, allowing for
easy transit between the two, although the more impressive entrance
to Candler is from the Quadrangle. Heavy brass doors open to
the old, massive double staircase, which ascends on either side
of the lobby to the Matheson Reading Room.
Candler Library renovation is the final phase and culmination
of a fifteen-year effort to enhance and expand the library facilities,
says Charles Forrest, capital projects manager for the libraries
and a leader on the planning team. We have built a lot
of space for the user community with computers, and we have
always wanted to offer a variety of spaces for people depending
on what they need to do on a particular day. With this project
we were really attempting to develop a more traditional kind
of library space and restore the historic character of the reading
room. We heard from everybody: Give us back that classic
reading room, to round out the library experience.
the reading room and lobby were focal points of the project,
the library also incorporates offices, classrooms, and seminar
rooms. Most of the College administrative offices, including
those of Dean Robert A. Paul and Senior Associate Dean Rosemary
M. Magee, are now housed in Candler, high on the fourth floor,
with windows onto the reading room below. The offices of the
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, womens studies,
Jewish studies, African American studies, and classics also
have moved in.
think it turned out even nicer than we could have expected,
Bayly says. After working so long, looking at blueprints
and floor plans, its wonderful to see the reality of all
that hard work. What makes it so beautiful is its finishes,
the way we were really able to bring it back to its historic
her enthusiasm, Bayly has to whisper her admiration for Candler
Library. Its mid-morning and light is streaming in through
the two-story windows of the Matheson Reading Room while at
least a dozen students sit quietly at the long tables, poring
over their books in this grand, contemplative, and silent space.P.P.P.