Houghton Library Lobby Gallery
Image © Peter Vanderwarker
In August 2019, Houghton Library, home to Harvard University's rarest manuscripts and volumes, was closed for renovations. Work was scheduled to take a year, but, slowed by the pandemic, it was not completed until 2021.
The goal of the project was to improve the accessibility and hospitality of the building and, at the same time, expand its study and teaching spaces. The renovated facility now combines the needs of a modern center for research and teaching excellence with the preservation of the building's original heritage character. It also includes the creation of new exhibition spaces to highlight, in rotation, significant works from the Library's rich collections.
The project, led by Ann Beha Architects in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Office of Physical Resources and Planning, has been funded by generous donations from alumni.
On arrival, visitors are now greeted by the sight of ten elegant display cases lining the walls of the newly-repainted foyer. Designed by Boston-based Studio IKD (founded by Harvard alumni) and built by Goppion, they replace the old bookcases, allowing visitors to easily interact with the collection's objects.
Conforming to the rigorous conservation standards of North American museums, the showcases have been designed with a distinctive curvilinear profile and special hinges – both adaptive responses to the shape of the foyer. Flexible internal arrangements within each case allow for the display of a wide variety of materials, fundamental for their purpose of temporary exhibitions.
Even the lighting system has been designed to ensure a wide range of solutions while keeping the temperature of the LEDs under control.
Attention to detail has extended to careful choice of display case interiors and the apparatus for hosting graphics. Getting it right also involved a painstaking process of analyses on the inks used, in order to test the non-emissivity of substances, thereby ensuring they will not be potentially to the delicate works exposed while on public display.
Alongside these items, Goppion was called upon to create an additional display case, with a pentagonal plan and an entirely glass case.
Together, this collection of sleek-looking display cases is simultaneously practical and reflective of the enhanced accessibility that embodies the Library’s renewed physical environment.