Ho Fine Arts Library: A Body of Books

Exterior view of Rand Hall
View from the southeast shows the Ho Fine Art Library and Rand Hall (schematic design). rendering / © 2015 Wolfgang Tschapeller ZT GmbH
The scheme features four dense stack levels that will provide shelving for approximately 150,000 volumes, a double-height reading room, spaces for group and individual study on the main level, and seminar rooms on the upper levels (schematic design). rendering / Isochrom, © 2015 Wolfgang Tschapeller ZT GmbH
The plan of the main floor shows the public reading hall, individual study carrels, one of four levels of book stacks, and access from both Rand Hall and the L. P. Kwee Studios in Milstein Hall (schematic design). illustration / © 2015 Wolfgang Tschapeller ZT GmbH
A cross-section shows the working spaces to the north, the reading area to the south, and the four levels of hanging stacks extending beyond the existing roof of Rand Hall into the lantern (schematic design). illustration / © 2015 Wolfgang Tschapeller ZT GmbH
Structural view of stacks
An isolated structural view of stacks with open staircases suspended from roof beams (schematic design). illustration / © 2015 Wolfgang Tschapeller ZT GmbH
October 8, 2015

AAP is designing a new home for the Fine Arts Library (FAL). The project addresses a host of issues critical to the university, the library system, and faculty and students across campus.

Made possible by a generous gift from AAP alumna Mui Ho '62 (B.Arch. '66), the Ho Fine Arts Library will be housed in the upper floors of Rand Hall, while the first floor will remain dedicated to the AAP fabrication shops. The project includes rehabilitating the dilapidated envelope of Rand Hall, dramatically improving the building's thermal and environmental performance, implementing a number of code upgrades, and reconfiguring the storied former studio spaces of Rand Hall to become a new state-of-the-art research library.

What constitutes a state-of-the-art research library for the fine and design arts? The basics include: public computers, shared and private spaces for collaborative and individual study, comfortable furniture, good light, seminar rooms outfitted with large displays for GIS and other data-visualization instruction, infrastructure for remote learning, workstations compatible with computers, phones, and tablets. And extraordinary librarians, trained in the most current digital technologies to help our students manage digital images and navigate online resources. The Ho FAL will provide all of this.

But the most state-of-the-art component of our new facility is not the newest technology and the latest equipment, which is only newest and latest for the briefest moment. It is the collection. Books. We will provide space for more than 150,000 on-site volumes. The protagonist of the new facility will be an open stack, circulating collection of books covering urban design and planning, architecture, fine arts, art history, landscape architecture, and interior design. Stable, immune from software glitches, with reliable color rendition and faithful text/image relationships, unchanging aspect ratios, and always fully charged. They never crash, even if 1,000 students each have 20 open at the same time.

The heart of the new library will be the renowned collection begun by President A. D. White in 1876, when he gifted to the Cornell Trustees his "prized obsession" in exchange for the establishment of a department dedicated to his favored subject, architecture. Wolfgang Tschapeller (M.Arch. '87), project architect, commented, "The design for the Ho Fine Arts Library is an immediate and quite physical invitation to discover an extraordinary collection which appears as one big volume, visible in its entirety upon entering. Winding staircases are the keys to enter this volume of knowledge, browse, read, and wonder."

Neither technophobia nor nostalgia motivates our focus on books. A recent faculty survey shows that junior faculty—those well versed in information technology—use the print collection more intensively than their senior colleagues. A snapshot at the time of writing reveals that 100% of AAP assistant professors have books checked out from the FAL, compared to 57% for associate professors and 59% for full professors. The FAL is the university's most intensely used special collection by students and faculty: on average, 25% of the fine arts books are checked out every year. In the most recent senior survey, 88% of AAP students credited the library as contributing to their academic success. As Sophie Hochhäusl (M.A. HAUD '10, Ph.D. '15) notes, "My appreciation of the fine arts library spans two building facility carts and weighs approximately 200 pounds each semester."

There are many reasons for the reliance on physical books in fine arts, architecture, and planning scholarship. Most obvious is the fact that a good portion of our printed materials is not online, and probably never will be. Esra Akcan, associate professor in architecture, noted that while some images are reproduced over and over again online, other less well-known photographs, plans, and drawings remain in printed books only. "We might be erasing a history by going digital," she expressed. Fine arts books are characterized by images, and images—protected by use and copyright laws—are expensive to acquire and require specialized skill to reproduce. Publishing a fine arts or architecture book is famously difficult for faculty scholars because of the complex and costly image acquisition process. Translated to digital space, this results in many fine art volumes having their images redacted or watermarked. Such volumes are useless for researchers. When images are included in digitized materials, the veracity of the reproduction is often marred by poorly managed input and output variables affecting key attributes of an image's content: value, chroma, aspect ratio, line quality, contrast, scale, sequence, texture. Images are primary content, the language of our disciplines.

In the fine arts and design fields, books are like buildings. You enter a book as you would enter an interior space. Your mental movements are choreographed by the geography of the page. Pages are thresholds. White space is a luxury, a conspicuous nonconsumption. A full-page, fullbleed image is a special invitation to dwell, to slow your tempo and deepen your depth of field. Context matters.  Athanasiou Geolas, a first-year Ph.D. student in the history of architecture and a former architect, shared that "physical books provide images and text in tandem and their meaning in part is conveyed by how they are presented, how the book is constructed, its size, and the paper type and font used." Sequence matters (e.g., the unrelenting mechanical pace of Erich Mendelsohn's 82 photographs of urban America in his 1936 "Amerika"). Format matters (e.g., the square format of Sol LeWitt's autobiography foretelling the nine-square image grid of every page within). Size matters (e.g., Pamphlet Architecture is indeed pamphlet sized).

And matter matters. Books, especially fine arts books, are constructed artifacts that in their very objecthood are anchors of durable form in a life of change (the German word for object is Gegenstand, which neatly captures the role of objects to "stand against" time). The durability of books, when properly housed and maintained, allows them to function as yardsticks against which to measure change. In the arts, this durability is not separate from the physical artifact but is identical to it. Considered together, our collection forms a unique physical body of knowledge dramatically celebrated in our new Ho Fine Arts Library.

By Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, and Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean, AAP