When tasked with transforming an early 1920s Italian Renaissance bank building into a fully functional library for the Rhode Island School of Design, the Building Team for RISD's Fleet Library found itself at odds with the project's two main goals.
On the one hand, the team would have to carefully restore and preserve the historic charm and ornate architectural details of the landmark space, despite the new use.
At the same time, the landmark banking hall would have to accommodate the library program—a collection of 130,000 volumes and 400 periodicals, an amphitheater, circulation desk, viewing rooms, student lounge, and study space for 250 students—without jeopardizing the historic character of the space.
The team resolved the conflict by placing two low-profile and completely removable “islands” in the middle of the barrel-vaulted banking hall. Constructed of fireproofed medium-density fiberboard, the islands more than quadruple the square footage of the hall to 55,000 sf, providing much-needed function space for the library.
The two-level “study island” (32x51 feet) provides a reading room, study carrels, and an amphitheater/seating area where students can hang out or study. The 30x30-foot, single-level “circulation island” incorporates the circulation desk, reference desks, and computer stations. The islands are positioned symmetrically in the long axis of the room and frame an open reading lounge in the center.
Reconstruction Awards honorary chair Walker C. Johnson, FAIA, principal with Johnson Lasky Architects, Chicago, said the use of the circulation and study islands was an “innovative solution” for solving space and seating issues in the existing bank space—thus meriting Fleet Library Special Recognition honors in BD+C's 24th Annual Reconstruction Awards.