Text by John Morris Dixon, FAIA
In 1907, composer Edward MacDowell and his pianist wife Marian transformed their rural retreat into a pioneering artists’ colony. The luminaries who have worked in this bucolic setting over the years have included Willa Cather, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and James Baldwin.
The MacDowells built 32 cottage-studios where the colony’s fellows are to spend the day alone (and now without phone or Internet). A lunch basket is left at the door. In the evening, they gather for dinner and for public presentations in the Savidge Library. Dating from 1928, this rustic, one-room structure has remained a symbolic center, yet fell short of the colony’s technical and environmental requirements.
While providing sensitive technical improvement to the old library, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners designed an addition, sited deferentially to one side of the original. A vestibule in the new wing keeps out wintry blasts and summer humidity, and in the adjacent plaza a tall monolith containing an outdoor fireplace serves as a landmark for the complex. Like the new wing, it is clad in Boreal Green split-face granite, quarried nearby.
Within its tight footprint, the new addition provides space for an expansion of the traditional library functions, a reading room, a corridor gallery, facilities for online research, and accommodates a growing digital archive.