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veritasHarvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1332 July 2006
90 Mt. Auburn Street

The Woodberry Poetry Room is being renovated this summer for the first time in 57 years. The room will retain the look and feel of the originals designed by the Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto.

Harvard University Library Notes / July 2006 / No. 1332

Woodberry Poetry Room Renovation Under Way

Harvard College Library's Woodberry Poetry Room is a busy place. But providing generations of students and researchers from around the world access to a significant collection of contemporary poetry and poetics has taken its toll on the current space. This summer, with the collection placed in storage, the Woodberry Poetry Room has been closed for much needed renovation—the first in 57 years.

Established with a gift in memory of George Edward Woodberry, Class of 1877, the Woodberry Poetry Room was originally located in Widener Library and moved in 1949 to the newly constructed Lamont Library. The interior arrangement of the room and the furnishings were designed by Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto.

"A dilemma arises when a celebrated space designed by a world-renowned architect begins to show its age. But after more than a half-century of use, the Woodberry Poetry Room was badly worn. Continuous use by students has simply worn out the furniture, and the room itself lacked contemporary study space and technological capabilities. Without these things, it couldn't fulfill its intended purpose as outlined in the terms of the gift: to afford students both a rich collection of poetry resources and a space in which to study them," said Nancy M. Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College.

Options were carefully considered. The renovation will upgrade the room to accommodate heavy use and address the needs of 21st-century students while remaining true to the style with which Alvar Aalto imbued it in 1949. David Fixler, historic preservation specialist for the project architects Einhorn Yaffee Prescott and an expert on Aalto, is consulting on the renovation.

The Poetry Room will retain as many Aalto furnishings as possible, including the signature paneling and screens. While much of the commercially manufactured Aalto furniture has already been repaired, it has reached a point where most pieces can no longer be safely used. New seating will reflect the Aalto style. Of the original pieces, the large study table is being refinished and two of the turntable consoles, which students will continue to use, will be adapted into study tables with the consoles forming the centers. Most of the original light fixtures will be reinstalled after being cleaned and rewired. Several retired items, including a console, chair, stool, floor lamp, and ceiling lights, are going to Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum. Other pieces will be put up for auction, giving collectors and museums the opportunity to acquire them.

The renovation will upgrade the room to accommodate heavy use and address the needs of 21st-century students while remaining true to the style with which Alvar Aalto imbued it in 1949.

During the project, a new cork floor will be installed, data jacks and power outlets will be added, shelving will be repaired, and the ceiling will be patched and painted.

The result of the renovation, which is being funded through the generosity of an anonymous donor, will be a refurbished space with the look and feel of the original but with increased technological capability, more study spaces, and furnishings able to withstand a few more generations of avid poetry students.

For information about the renovation project, contact Beth Brainard, HCL's director of communications, at brainard@fas.harvard.edu or 5-8415.

For information about Woodberry Poetry Room collections, contact Don Share, curator, at share@fas.harvard.edu or 5-2454.


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