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Stanford Report, October 6, 1999

Phoenix Rising: Restored Bing Wing respects past, present, future


Photos by L.A. Cicero

On the surface, the newly renovated Bing Wing of Green Library is a work of sublime historic restoration that brings library users back to a time when scholarly pursuits took place in more formal, even rarefied, surroundings.

But like its books, the Bing Wing shouldn't be judged by its cover.

Newly installed flat-panel computer screens offer a clue to what lies beneath the building's surface. Internet connections rise discreetly from the library's floors at desks and even at armchairs.

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The library is designed not only with the latest in technical innovations, but as much as possible to accommodate the future. For example, running behind its walls are fiberoptic cables with extra room for the next generation of technology. Indeed, given the hyperspeed of technological evolution in only the last five years, the Bing Wing is likely to see further alterations in its future.

Perhaps the biggest change can't be seen at all, on or beneath the surface. It is a concept --a new approach to using the library and, for students and scholars, harnessing its resources as effectively as possible. Appreciating the new library on this deeper level will necessarily take some time working there --longer than it takes to luxuriate in the new settings.

The Bing Wing, named for donors Peter S. and Helen L. Bing, will be officially dedicated Tuesday, less than a week short of the 10-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake that damaged it extensively.

The project, conceived under the leadership of President Gerhard Casper and University Librarian Michael Keller, is respectful of both the past and the future.

"Not a single thing that's been done to these spaces cannot be fairly easily revised for a much different kind of operation," said Keller, who, while something of a high-tech guru, has overseen a restoration that nonetheless encourages the simple pleasure of curling up in an overstuffed chair with a book that, for now at least, is printed on paper.

In the formal, 7,400-square-foot Lane Reading Room, the lounging reader is swathed in natural light from a huge laylight that had remained covered over since early World War II to black out evening light. At night, hidden uplights, task lights at each table and new chandeliers suffuse the room.

Natural light also bathes the Munger Rotunda, which at night glows from indirect floodlights ensconced in the dome and cast-iron light fixtures suspended from the ceilings of the apses. While the building retains the austerity of original architect Arthur Brown Jr.'s design, the rotunda has a stately elegance to it. As the day progresses and the light changes, its walls take on numerous shades of creamy yellow.

The fifth-floor Bender Room, designated the "gentleperson's reading room," provides a clubby ambience and affords superb views of the campus' red-tile roofs and foothills beyond. A hidden multimedia screen can drop down and be used for meetings and special occasions.

The melding of old and new is also apparent in the Lane Reading Room's oak tables. Designed with the original quatrefoil figure that is repeated throughout the building, the tables open to reveal "hot" connections for laptop computers, access to the Internet and Stanford e-mail.

As final preperations were made in the Lane Reading Room over the summer, University Librarian Michael Keller described the project.

"We've installed 'category five' wiring and fiberoptic cable as well as electrical outlets to virtually every seat in the reconstructed building," Keller said. "Each of the rooms that conceivably could be used for teaching and group study or research also has coaxial cable installed so that video sound and images can be originated and received. We have left plenty of space behind walls, in telecommunications closets and in other chambers for antennas should wireless communication inside the building become a useful attribute."

Deep inside the library's bowels lie less high tech but vital improvements: new seismic-resistant interior concrete shear walls --made of miles of rebar and tons of concrete --designed to help the building withstand earthquakes.

"These walls are 18 inches thick," Keller said proudly as he took visitors through the labyrinthine stacks. The new walls have somewhat reduced the library's stack area. Now, the stacks are supposed to operate "as one big cube," Keller says, not as the three or four different cubes that, during the Loma Prieta quake, pounded against the old Main Library and caused structural damage.

The new construction reflects the latest in seismic know-how, which, like information technology, has changed even during the last few years of planning for the Bing Wing restoration.

Though the spotlight shines on the Bing Wing, a library user's initial approach to finding information will take place at a transformed Information Center in the East Wing, and continue for more specialized materials at new humanities and social sciences resource centers in the Bing Wing. The Information Center project is largely complete but still awaits installation of some computer equipment.

But the Bing Wing has plenty to show off.

"I think it's incredible," Daryl-Lynn Johnson, a senior majoring in industrial engineering, said as she was studying statistics last week in the Lane Reading Room. She said she appreciated the room's formality, the likes of which Stanford students have lacked for 10 years. Already, she said, "at night this has become a very popular place to study --it's so accessible to the outdoors and the Quad."


The eventful history of libraries at Stanford only reinforces how imperative it is that the buildings be able to change with the times. Already, in 1900, the growing university had 1,389 students and the Thomas Welton Stanford Library was filled to capacity. Construction of a new library building, east of the Oval and in front of the Main Quad, began in 1904. But, in a far cry from the process followed for the Bing Wing, the university's main librarian was not even consulted or shown the building plans. Although the library was completed in 1905, its opening was delayed pending modifications. Shortly before those changes were realized, the 1906 earthquake completely destroyed the new library.

In 1917, excavation began for a new library, designed by Arthur Brown Jr. and John Bakewell Jr., incorporating the latest developments in library design, including monumental well-lit reading rooms and smaller seminar spaces, as well as state-of-the-art seismic standards intended to protect collections and inhabitants from physical harm in the event of a major earthquake.

The building was constructed of steel frame, with reinforced concrete for the main floors and roof slabs, walls of hollow clay tiles, and marble, wood and brass for the interior. Brown, a renowned Bay Area architect who designed San Francisco's City Hall, included in the Romanesque-style exterior such features as an entrance façade of San Jose sandstone with relief figures depicting Art, Philosophy and Science carved over the portals. The library's site adjacent to the Main Quad is consistent with Frederick Law Olmsted's overall design plan for the Stanford campus. The building opened in 1919.

By 1948, pressures for change and for remodeling were mounting. But other than a stack expansion, little relief came until the 1966 construction of Meyer Library. In 1980, the East Wing of the Cecil H. Green Library opened, adjoining the old Main Library, which was renovated as Green Library West. In 1988, the tiered stacks of the West Wing were structurally and environmentally modernized, with the installation of bracing and temperature and humidity controls.

Art installers Michael Carey, left, and Josh Greenberg hang the presidential portrait of Ray Lyman Wilbur in the Lane Reading Room.

The structural improvements came none too soon. Pointing to the 1988 red steel supports, Keller explained, "That's why this stack tower didn't go down," when, a year later, the Loma Prieta earthquake inflicted nonetheless heavy damage to Green West.

Much of that damage occurred as a result of the hollow clay tiles used in the original construction. But the collections remained intact and no one was hurt --despite falling plaster and, obviously, falling books. Kären Nagy, the deputy university librarian, noted that the timing of the earthquake was fortuitous; it took place after 5 p.m., by which time most users had left. Following the earthquake, all volumes were removed and the upper floors abandoned; the building was shuttered in 1993.

Green West had few users after 5 p.m. because by the 1980s it had become mostly a special collections library, and special collections closed at 5. "The focus was on connoisseurship and the worthy," Keller said -- on making the special collections available "to the 'right' people, rather than making these materials accessible to all the students and all the faculty."

Planning for the rebuilding of Green West took place in fits and starts until Keller's arrival in 1993. While a few years of planning essentially were lost in the early 1990s, events between 1990 and 1995 ended up altering the planning significantly, Keller said. "A lot happened in those years that dramatically changed our view," he said -- notably the advent of the Internet and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

The evolving concept for a restored Green West included more than adopting seismic lessons learned from the Kobe earthquake and connecting study spaces to the Internet, however.

For one, "Our plan is to make the special collections materials part of the fabric of an education at Stanford; every undergraduate should have an experience with a rare book or manuscript," Keller said.

And in a more global way, Keller and his team decided to change the way the building interacted with the East Wing and Meyer Library. "Our conception has been for the whole three-building complex. We were able to do that because of the situation" the earthquake brought about, he said.

Not surprisingly, the budget for the restored Green West grew as the planning evolved. "We started out at $34.5 million, but after my planning process, it was apparent it was not anywhere near enough," Keller said. He credited Melvin B. and Joan F. Lane with making the first major gift to the Restoration Fund and kicking off a successful fundraising drive. Keller estimates the final sum will be about $55 million.

The plan included reducing the number of "back of house" type functions within what is now the Bing Wing to create more room for students. "We looked at the number of seats we had and the kinds of study environments we were providing. We were quite aware we hadn't provided a big reading room environment in the last iteration of this grand design. We decided that this was a good thing to do, partly for the sake of the community," Keller said. Architecture for the renovation was overseen by Fields & Devereaux Associates of Los Angeles, with interiors by Brayton & Hughes of San Francisco.

Besides returning some grand spaces to heavy student use, "we want to guarantee the growth of communities associated by disciplines," Keller explained. "One of the big ideas is to create a space where people can count on seeing each other if they just hang out long enough."

In addition to finding their friends, library users now can avail themselves of resources -- books in print, computerized files and library staffers who can help them find what they need -- in a handy, discipline-oriented configuration.

The Humanities and Area Studies Resource Center includes the second-floor Lane Reading Room, printed reference collections and "mini-collections," including new fiction and books in the humanities. The Humanities Digital Information Service maintains an electronic library of humanities texts and provides access to electronic indexes and publications and develops software for the delivery and analysis of electronic texts.

Like the humanities center, the first-floor Social Sciences Resource Center has its own large reading room, as well as a multimedia seminar room, group study rooms and open gathering space for faculty and students. Its collections, which include a 15,000-volume reference collection, are intended for advanced inquiry and also provide access to U.S., foreign and international government documents in print and electronic formats. The center also is home to the Jonsson Library of Government Documents. And the Social Sciences Data Services and the Statistical Applications Consulting Service will be the focal point for specialized computing facilities and consulting on the use of data, statistical applications and relevant software, improving access to social science data via the Web, electronic user guides and instructional sessions.

Indeed, the reorganization of resources at Stanford's libraries transcends the Bing Wing's restoration.

"Millions of books are being returned to the shelves, thousands of circuits activated, hundreds of staff moved and whole new programs, long in planning, are getting under way," Keller said. SR