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Sawyer Library

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

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Williams College

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132,000 sq. feet



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Project Description

This project represents the culmination of a 12-year effort to reimagine Williams College’s library and restore the campus’ historic Stetson Hall, which served as the library and now continues in an archival role by housing rare original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The results fuse new and old, intertwining the college’s historic roots with the forward-looking views of its scholarly community.

A library constructed in the 1970s eclipsed Stetson Hall’s presence on campus, and its large volume diminished pedestrian flow. Two additions to Stetson Hall’s rear served as faculty housing, relegating them to the campus perimeter, far from classes and student activity. The first phase of the project was to relocate faculty to two new academic buildings, followed by placing the new Sawyer Library in the space previously occupied by faculty housing. This has restored Stetson Hall’s stature as a campus destination and connects it and the library to Williams’ student center via new green space. Stetson Hall’s interior and exterior were meticulously restored, and its reading rooms and gallery spaces house items from the Chapin Rare Books Library.

For the new 132,000-square-foot library, the team focused on collaboration. It features a wide range of solo and group study environments, and splits the space into two distinct zones: one for collaboration and one for collections. The collaboration zone is split among three levels that house reference materials, technology, and rare books. The library’s monographs are spread across four levels and are readily browsed. Study carrels ring the stacks and provide sweeping views of the Berkshire Mountains.

Library visitors enter through Stetson Hall’s lobby, which offers a framed view to the new space. The team removed Stetson Hall’s original cast iron and marble stack system, which did not meet modern accessibility requirements and repurposed the materials to created display cases, benches, and the flooring, creating a material link between the old and new spaces. To further bolster Stetson Hall’s prominence, the new library’s roof is tucked below its cornice line.

Sawyer Library illustrates how sustainable planning and design can deliver inspiring architecture that supports social interaction, foster a sense of community, and provide environmental stewardship. Sustainability in every sense of the word drove the design and provided the motivation to restore Stetson Hall to its former glory. Other sustainable features include optimized construction systems and natural lighting, which energizes the library’s significant footprint through two major atria and a four-story light reflector that distributes clerestory light into the heart of the building.
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