Harvard College Library

Preparing for Phase 2: Exploratory Work in the Widener Lobby

June 22, 2001 -- In preparation for Phase 2 of the Widener Library renovation project, scheduled to begin this fall, scaffolding has been erected temporarily in the library's lobby to aid architects in gathering preliminary information pertaining to the original structure of the building.

Many aspects of that structure are not indicated on the architectural drawings from the early 1900s, says Jonathan Balas, Architectural Associate of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering, who serves as project manager for the Widener renovation. And while much information and many photographs were found in the Harvard Archives, more specifics are needed to achieve the goal of restoring Widener Library to its original design.

Saccfolding temporarily in place on the first floor staircase of Widener Library reaches up into the skylight.

"This exploratory work is all about gaining information," Balas says. "The more information we have, the better and more accurate our drawings and planning will be."

Architects are looking at three specific aspects of building structure during this exploratory work, and information they derive from it will help them to design the new building systems and determine the best location for them, as well as offer clues as to what kinds of restoration will be appropriate.

Before they can begin to create drawings for the project, the architects need to determine the exact location and size of ceiling beams, by making holes in the plaster and actually looking inside the ceiling. This way they can measure the space available to hide the new building systems, such as HVAC ducts and sprinkler piping, which are needed to comply with the current code. The measurements taken since the scaffolding went up the week of June 11 have given architects a good idea of the space available to them, Balas says.

While measuring the space within the ceiling, architects also looked at the types of moldings featured on the ceiling and took tiny sample chips of the paint used when Widener Library was constructed at the turn of the 20th century. These paint chips, Balas explains, will be sent to a lab for analysis to determine the exact color and shade of paint used. Once the results determined, the architects will be able to precisely match this color with paint available today and use it in the restoration efforts.

Lastly architects are taking a close look at the lighting currently in place, some of which is still original, such as the chandeliers in the Widener Rotunda and above the first floor staircase. It is important to know how it was constructed since it will need to be rewired during the renovation project, Balas says. Also being examined are the lighting fixtures in the lobby, Balas adds, which are currently hidden under egg-crate tiles with fluorescent bulbs. The original fixtures will be restored and at the same time brought up to current lighting standards.

Exploratory work in the Widener Lobby will be completed the week of June 25, Balas says, and the scaffolding will be taken down. But as the project progresses the same process will be repeated in other areas of the building, such as the Loker Reading Room, the Rotunda, and the Reference Room.

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College