Fisher Fine Arts Library
Fisher Fine Arts Library (Furness Library), University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania Library in 1900.
|Area||116,000 sq ft|
|Architect||Frank Furness; Furness, Evans, & Co.|
|Architectural style||Venetian Gothic, Victorian|
|NRHP Reference #||72001154|
|Added to NRHP||May 19, 1972|
|Designated NHL||February 4, 1985|
The Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library, also known as the Furness Library, is located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, on the east side of College Green. Designed by the acclaimed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness (1839–1912), the red sandstone, brick-and-terra-cotta Venetian Gothic giant—part fortress and part cathedral—was built to be the primary library of the University, and to house its archeological collection. The cornerstone was laid in October 1888, construction was completed in late 1890, and the building was dedicated in February 1891.
|“||"It is the work of an artist." — Frank Lloyd Wright.||”|
The library's plan is exceptionally innovative: circulation to the building's five stories is through the tower's staircase, separated from the reading rooms and stacks.
The Main Reading Room is a soaring four-story brick-and-terra-cotta-enclosed space, divided by an arcade from the two-story Rotunda Reading Room. The latter has a basilica plan – with seminar rooms grouped around an apse (like side-chapels) – the entire space lighted by clerestory windows. Above the Rotunda Reading Room is a two-story lecture hall, now an architecture studio. The Main Reading Room, with its enormous skylight and wall of south-facing windows, acts as a lightwell, illuminating the surrounding inner rooms through leaded glass windows.
The three-story fireproof stacks are housed in a modular iron wing, with a glass roof and glass-block floors to help light the lower levels. It was designed to initially hold 100,000 books – but also to be continuously expandable, one bay at a time, with a movable south wall. Furness's perspective drawing highlighted this growth potential by showing a nine-bay stacks, although the initial three-bay stacks were never expanded.
Throughout the building are windows inscribed with quotations from Shakespeare, chosen by Horace Howard Furness (Frank's older brother), a University lecturer and a preeminent American Shakespearean scholar of the 19th century. The architect collaborated with Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System, and others to make this the most modern American library building of its time.
Within a generation, Frank Furness's exuberant masterwork was considered an embarrassment. The University Museum moved to its own building in 1899. In 1915, the Durhing Wing was built at the south end of the stacks, making their designed expansion impossible. Robert Rodes McGoodwin drew up plans to cloak the entire building in sedate Collegiate Gothic brick and stone. The first step toward this was the 1931 addition of a reading room facing College Green (now the Arthur Ross Gallery) that masked the iron-and-glass stacks. Almost perversely, McGoodwin's incongruous Collegiate Gothic addition was dedicated as a memorial to Horace Howard Furness.
The building served as the main library of the University of Pennsylvania until the construction of Van Pelt Library in 1962. Today it houses collections related to architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, historic preservation, history of art, and studio arts.
In 1957, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin columnist and cartoonist Alfred Bendiner invited Frank Lloyd Wright to tour the Victorian behemoth, then threatened with demolition. The architect proclaimed: "It is the work of an artist."
The Furness Library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, was additionally listed as a contributing property in the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District in 1978. and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985.
Between 1986 and 1991, the building was restored by a team that included Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, Inc., CLIO Group, Inc., and Marianna Thomas Architects. On the occasion of its centennial in February 1991, it was rededicated as the "Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library" (named for the restoration's primary benefactors). The $16.5-million restoration garnered rave reviews from New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger, and received national awards from the Victorian Society in America (1991), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (1992), and the American Institute of Architects (1993).
The restored building was featured prominently in the 1993 film Philadelphia.
In a 2009 appreciation in The Wall Street Journal, architectural historian Michael J. Lewis called it "a cheeky act of architectural impertinence" and "the last of its kind": "Today, the University of Pennsylvania building, now known as the Fisher Fine Arts Library, is widely acknowledged as one of the great creations of 19th-century American culture, and the principal work of its architect, Frank Furness (1839-1912)."
- Carolyn Pitts (1984-08-10). PDF (32 KB). National Park Service and PDF (32 KB)
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Furness Library, School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Applications for Historical Landmark Status Accessed July 20, 2007
- Elevation and perspective drawing from Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
- Edward R. Bosley, University of Pennsylvania Library (London: Phaidon Press, 1996), pp. 17-22.
- Library Building Collection Finding Aid from Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
- Bosley, p. 60.
- Alfred Bendiner, Bendiner's Philadelphia (New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1964), pp. 40-41. Bendiner cartoon from Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
- Restoration drawings from Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
- Paul Goldberger, "In Philadelphia, a Victorian Extravaganza Lives," The New York Times, June 2, 1991.
- Michael J. Lewis, "This Library Speaks Volumes," The Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2009.
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