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Thinking outside the box: libraries without borders

Friday, 3 September 2010

Just as pedagogical and learning styles have evolved, the design of buildings that support learning are changing, too, from environments with static formulas for space layouts to those that support active dynamic learning.

A primary goal in designing a learning environment is not only to support the activities that take place within it but to encourage the activity and make it visible to those who enter the environment. This idea of taking down boundaries helped accomplish that.

For Eckstein Hall at Marquette Law School this was taken forward with the idea that the law library shouldn’t be confined and separated from the rest of the spaces in the law school. The idea of this “library without walls” – that once you pass through the lobby you have immediate access to the collections and you can work with library materials anywhere in the building – was ingeniously bold.

What are some of the components that make this work for Marquette?

1. Placing the library’s service point in a high-visibility location on the main level

2. Organizing the collection vertically in one section of the building with easy access to stairs and elevators

3. Creating a variety of spaces throughout the building, from places for quiet scholarship to a forum that places the law school at the heart of legal discourse

Having a more fluid library space also contributes to the building’s overall space efficiency, which in turn supports the goal of creating a sustainable environment. As a design team we also embraced this as an opportunity to explore and evolve the “in between spaces” of a building that connect and hold the other program pieces together.

How will future students measure the success of Marquette Law School’s “library without walls”? Perhaps in the simplest way of all: by taking the seamlessness of the learning environment created by this lack of boundaries for granted.

- Joe Rondinelli

Joe Rondinelli is a Senior Associate at Shepley Bulfinch and a senior interior designer with the firm.

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