Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Andrew Carnegie Built the Architecture of American Literacy @ City Lab

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How Andrew Carnegie Built the Architecture of American Literacy
The philanthropist covered the U.S. in libraries between 1893 and 1919. How many survive—and the forms they've taken—points to what kind of structures make a city center.
City Lab: 10.28.2014 by Kriston Capps

Earlier this month, the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., ditched its plans to move into the Carnegie library in Mt. Vernon Square. The last of several meetings with the city's Historic Preservation Review Board had yielded another round of modifications to the museum's plans to adapt the building. But the Spy Museum had run out of time.

"We loved the opportunity that was put forth to make a home in a historic part of the city," says Jason Werden, communications manager at the International Spy Museum. "It was a lot to juggle, but it was something that was going well for a long time."

D.C.'s Spy Museum had hoped to erect an addition, one designed by the Philadelphia architecture firm MGA Partners with the landscape firm OLIN, that would surround the existing 1903 Carnegie library on three sides. The plan would've seen the building joined by two glass pavilions on its east and west ends, along with glass walkways around its north face, while adding even more space below grade.

The plan proved to be too much for District preservationists. Yet modern glass pavilions and basement tunneling are not necessarily out of the ordinary for a Carnegie library today. Across the nation, the libraries that Andrew Carnegie built have been transformed and reused as historical museums, city halls, art centers, and even bars and restaurants, sometimes by dramatic means.

It is a testament to Carnegie's philanthropic investment in cities—the largest in U.S. history—that so many of these buildings are still in use. Yet no one can say exactly how many are standing now. Despite the important roles the libraries continue to play in towns and cities, our understanding of these buildings as a piece of civic infrastructure is far from cohesive.
A $1 Billion Program for Invisible Infrastructure

"It can be really hard to tell whether a library is a Carnegie library," says Abigail A. Van Slyck, author of Free to All: Carnegie Libraries & American Culture, 1890–1920 and dean at Connecticut College. "You essentially have to have a document. Or they have to have named it 'the Carnegie library.' Or put it in the cornerstone."

Between 1893 and 1919—a three-decade run that librarians refer to as the Golden Age of the American public library system—Carnegie paid to build 1,689 libraries in the U.S. These seeded the DNA for nearly every American library built before the end of World War II. That may explain in part why there is no central accounting for Carnegie's libraries, which were built without any oversight from a formal program or foundation: Even libraries that aren't historical Carnegie libraries share their aesthetic philosophy.  READ MORE !

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