An Uncommon Library - Johns Hopkins Gazette, September 2012

Reprinted with permission from the Johns Hopkins University Gazette
An Uncommon
By Joe Sugarman / Photos by Will Kirk
he free smoothie machine didn’t make the cut.
Nor did the coin-operated massage chairs or the
“napping pods.” But most of the other (more practical) suggestions contributed by students for the
Brody Learning Commons were integrated into
its final design—and that was one of the primary goals.
“We knew it was the students who should be driving
this from day one,” says Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of
University Libraries and Museums.
Visitors to the Homewood campus’s Brody Learning
Commons, named in honor of the university’s 13th president, William R. Brody, and his wife, Wendy, will be able
to see student input everywhere they look, from the funky
foam chairs shaped like balls on the building’s ground
level to the 75-seat Daily Grind café with its ample plugs
for laptops and electronics. But the number one request
from students who filled out online surveys? Natural light,
says Tabb.
Architects from Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott
responded by designing a building seemingly made of
mostly windows and skylights.
Enter through the Metro-like metal gates from the Keyser Quad and you’re immediately struck by how bright
things are. “There aren’t too many spaces where you don’t
get natural light,” says Brian Shields, communications
and marketing manager for the Sheridan Libraries and
Left: The Keyser Quadrangle entrance to the Brody Learning
Commons leads visitors directly into the 75-seat Daily Grind
café, which is equipped with ample plugs for laptops and electronics. Above: Natural light fills the Schnydman Atrium, where
chairs and whiteboards on wheels allow students to adapt the
space to their needs. Looking onto the room from above are
glass-walled group study rooms.
University Museums, who stands in
as tour guide on a recent visit.
We head into one of the building’s
16 group study rooms—a fishbowllike affair, with a floor-to-ceiling glass
wall trimmed in eye-popping blue,
that overlooks the building’s Schnydman Atrium. Students or faculty
can reserve online any of the study
rooms, and all boast short-throw projectors, reconfigurable seating and
walls, and glass windows that double
as erasable whiteboards.
Our next stop is the quiet reading
room, a light-filled space with soaring ceiling and seating for 100. It’s
a favorite of Tabb’s. “Previously, the
university didn’t have a true reading
room, a quiet place where people go
to study, like at many other universities,” says Tabb, who notes that he’s
been looking forward to an expansion
of the Eisenhower Library since his arrival at Johns Hopkins in 2002. “Walking into the room is so inspirational.”
Artist Mark Dion’s installation,
An Archaeology of Knowledge, a giant
“cabinet of wonders,” stretches from
floor to ceiling and contains ephemera from across the university—
microscopes, globes, old chemistry cabinets, and much more—
behind glass and in drawers that can
be opened by visitors. “We knew we
wanted to have art, and at first you
think of painting or sculpture,” says
Tabb. “But this is a kind of art that
really draws on so many subjects, reflecting the ways that people learn.
I can’t wait to go there and plow
through all the drawers.”
Shields and I walk past a bank of
lockers—each has an outlet inside
to recharge electronics—and down
to the M-Level, home to the Department of Special Collections. We poke
our heads into the Macksey Seminar
Room, named in honor of Humanities Professor Emeritus Richard
Macksey and his late wife, Catherine.
Macksey hosted generations of students in his home for seminars and
has bequeathed his more than 70,000
volumes to the university.
A set of doors and windows on
each floor connects BLC with the
Eisenhower Library, creating a
uniform space. “That’s one of the
things I really like,” says
Tabb. “The ability to see
through the old and into
the new. We really needed to have two buildings
operating as one library.”
The B-Level features another entrance/exit with steps made from repurposed marble from Gilman and
Shriver halls. Shields points out a
12-by-7-foot bank of a dozen linked
monitors, a “visualization wall,” a
joint project of the Sheridan Libraries and the Whiting School’s Department of Computer Science, that will
allow researchers to develop a better
sense of how humans interact with
The rest of the main floor is meant
to be flexible, as students will be able
to configure chairs and whiteboards
on wheels, creating impromptu study
areas—something Tabb can’t wait to
see in action. “I’m sure students will
use it in ways we can’t imagine,” he
says. “When I see the students owning the building, using it in ways they
want, I’ll be extremely pleased.” g
Brody Learning Commons by the Numbers
Top: Artist Mark Dion’s giant installation, An Archaeology
of Knowledge, invites visitors to explore and handle ephemera collected from across the university. Bottom: An interior
balcony/walkway that overlooks the atrium and connects the
Brody Learning Commons to the Eisenhower Library, left.
26 Johns Hopkins University
42,000 square feet
16 flexible group study rooms
6 teaching and seminar rooms
100-seat quiet reading room
75-seat café and atrium
500 additional seats
84 square feet size of electronic “visualization wall”
7 online votes supporting “bean bag chairs”
1st new-construction project at Homewood to pursue
LEED silver certification
$32.4 million cost of construction, funded entirely through
private donations