Renovations Reflect Saarinen’s Original Designs for Law School

Renovations Reflect Saarinen’s Original Designs for Law School
Sarah Galer
University of Chicago News Office
October 23, 2008

The retention of the D’Angelo Law Library’s historic design and the enhancement of student-friendly spaces have garnered the Law School’s library renovation project the 2008 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Rehabilitation from Landmarks Illinois.

The award was conferred Friday, Oct. 17 for the work completed by the Chicago architectural firm OWP/P.

Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean of the Law School, praised the architects and the school’s leadership for having successfully revealed a hidden masterpiece: “It was a great building struggling to get out.”

The Laird Bell Law Quadrangle, completed in 1959, was the modern-Gothic vision of Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who was responsible for such designs as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, by the mid-1990s, time had started to erode the physical structure, while rapidly changing educational needs created new challenges. Other elements of Saarinen’s original design were never fully realized.

Law School administrators have worked closely with OWP/P for more than a decade to thoughtfully address these issues, while expanding and enhancing the award-winning library as well as the school’s law clinic space, auditorium and classrooms.

Under the leadership of Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School, the recent D’Angelo Law Library renovations were focused on emphasizing the student experience in the Law School. The result has been an enviable modern facility, with library, classroom and study spaces embedded in a historic space.

The Law School recaptured much of the library tower by reducing the number of onsite books by 40 percent, thanks to the digitization of many legal resources. Only the more frequently used books remain on the open shelves, though they number in the hundreds of thousands. Historically significant collections are in compact storage in the library basement while less-used books eventually will be housed in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, slated to open in 2010.

According to Judith Wright, Associate Dean for Library and Information Services, “The D’Angelo will be one of the very few academic libraries nationally that will be able to retain its historical print books as space needs force most academic law libraries to discard their print collections.”

The huge task of removing these 270,000 books made it possible to open up—and warm up—the previously cramped tower. “The library is no longer austere and dark with gray linoleum floors, concrete ceilings, fluorescent lights and black book stacks,” said Wright. “The renovated student study space includes the refinished original tables, new study carrels, great new chairs, improved lighting, wooden end panels on the book stacks, and upgraded electricity and campus network access. Soft seating is scattered throughout the library, which is now more comfortable and inviting,” she added.

The Wilson Reading Room and a media room, where students can relax or study in front of a television, provide more social space for students.

One of the changes Levmore is most proud of is that student services—the Dean of Students, the Registrar, Admissions and Careers Services—have been centralized on the third floor of the tower. “Student services had been dispersed, sometimes in unattractive spaces, throughout the Law School,” said Levmore. “There are real benefits to bringing these offices together, but more than that is the symbolic and architectural message of having these offices in central and attractive locations. It sends the message that serving students is an important part of what we do, and form is function, in the sense that well-located facilities are more frequently used.”

The three student journals now share a spacious modern area in the basement of the library tower, where the office of Career Services and faculty workshops had previously shared—or competed—for space. “The old journal offices were scattered in corners of the library building, and quarters were pretty cramped,” said Brett Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief of the Legal Forum. “The new journal office has not only given us a lot more space, but it also has made for a more collaborative environment among the three journals.” The abandoned spaces in the Library also have allowed for the creation of more attractive student study spaces.

Jon Jurich, Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Journal of International Law, agrees, highlighting the greater flow of ideas: “Rather than just focusing on my journal’s issue, I expect to hear about the varied ideas the other journals are encountering.”

The successful renovation of the D’Angelo Law Library celebrates Saarinen’s modern interpretation of the more traditional Gothic architecture that sits north of the Midway Plaisance, focusing on the same rhythmic patterns, vertical lines and the use of glass. An evening walk by the Law School provides a breathtaking modern play on the Gothic obsession with light, with the illuminated accordion windows of the library tower reflecting onto Saarinen’s reflecting pool.

Baird notes that the building is symbolic of what it means to study at the Law School. “It has style and serious purpose,” said Baird, who considers Chicago’s complex to be the most architecturally significant of any law school campus in the United States. “It reinforces what we are about.”

Faculty: 
Douglas G. Baird
Faculty: 
Saul Levmore