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O'Donnell Institute Digital Library

buchanan architecture


1717 N. Harwood



The Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History - The University of Texas at Dallas


  • Russell Buchanan, FAIA
  • Gary Orsinger, AIA


  • General Contractor: MCL Construction

Project Status


Year Completed



2,000 sq. feet

Construction Cost


Room or Space




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Project Description

The O’Donnell Institute Digital Library

The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (O’Donnell Institute) Digital Library is a 2,000 square foot space located within the existing Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) in Dallas, Texas. The project is the result of an historic partnership for both the Museum and The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD); the first collaboration between a public university and a public museum linking the largest public art museum in North Texas with the University of Texas System, among the largest and finest public educational institutions in the world. The O’Donnell Institute is the first art history institute born in the digital era, and has state-of-the-art conservation resources, research tools, and digital platforms, providing unprecedented access to research and scholarship in the central U.S. for students, scholars, and the Texas community at large.

The O’Donnell Institute Digital Library occupies a space at the DMA that previously housed the Visual Resource Library (slide library). Programmatically, the facility has four private offices for visiting scholars; four smaller, semi-private study carrels for Ph.D. students; a receptionist area, a comfortable lounge area, and two conference/teaching spaces. Each space has direct access to a vast digital library network created for scholarly research in art history and curatorial sciences. The new facility opens directly to the Mayer Library at the DMA and is designed as a meeting and research facility for the entire community of art historians in North Texas.

The O’Donnell Institute Digital Library is conceived as a geometrically rigorous space with an illuminated, central cube formed by a reflective ceiling to create the illusion of an expansive space. The idea is to create an alert and energetic space by using simple geometric forms supported by light and reflection. Tailored detailing with an emphasis on craftsmanship is intended to respect the museum environment by providing a refined space for learning and interacting with fellow colleagues. The materials palette is deliberately narrow and monochromatic in order to create a neutral environment for looking at art.

The DMA, designed in 1984 by Edward Larrabee Barnes, follows a rigorous geometry to organize and define its spaces. As a nod to Barnes, the O’Donnell Institute Digital Library uses geometry to fully integrate the facility into its museum surroundings. In plan, the design is organized along two centerlines; one formed by the existing main entry to the space, the other by the connection to the existing Mayer Library. Centered on this intersection is a perfect 16 foot x 16 foot square shape which houses four private offices. A low ceiling compresses the space at the entry vestibule before entering into the visually expansive lounge area. It is at this moment that the illusion of the central object is revealed as a perfect cube. A continuous perimeter light cove at the ceiling plane creates a condition where the “container appears independent of its contents,” a subtle reference to the unique relationship between the DMA and UTD; institutions which are independent of each other, yet conjoined in their shared vision for excellence in research and scholarship. The suspended ceiling measuring precisely 24 feet x 48 feet hovers overhead at a height of 8 feet above finished floor. The polished stainless steel ceiling panels create a space that “feels” 16 feet tall and gives the illusion of the central mass as a perfect cube rendered in a translucent, diffuse material. The central cube emits an even glow of light like a lantern and separates the lounge area from the primary conference space. In the primary conference area the south wall is clad in sound absorptive fabric-wrapped panels reminiscent of a painter’s canvas. Tables and chairs in the conference areas, as well as three digital monitors, are all mobile and allow the space to be arranged in multiple configurations depending on use. Ancillary spaces include a secondary conference area, an equipment closet, a large vitrine, and a copy/scan/print area in the vestibule leading to the Mayer Library.

The O’Donnell Institute Digital Library does not store any books. Instead, it is a technological portal to an unlimited resource of data for scholarship and research in art history and curatorial sciences.
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