Ana Beha Architects (ABA) has transformed a space in the Newark Public Library to create a home for the Philip Roth Personal Library, a research and exhibition center capturing the author’s engagement with reading, writing, and Newark.
Philip Roth, who was born in Newark in 1933, bequeathed his personal collection of 7,000 books to the Newark Public Library in 2016. After his death in 2018, the library received his books as well as furniture and personal items. ABA was retained to design the new center in a building originally built in 1898 as a destination for researchers consulting Roth’s works and an exhibition space for sharing material related to the author’s work and life.
ABA partnered with Shawmut Design & Construction to upgrade the double-height room with all new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems, as well as new climate control and LED lighting systems. The updates create a museum-quality research and exhibition space. Historic details, such as plaster molding, pilasters, wainscoting, and double doors were repaired and restored. New wood flooring was installed to return the room to its original luster.
A sliding glass door separates a reading room from the exhibition gallery, but allows for a visual connection between them. In the exhibition area, display cases share Roth’s personal memorabilia, letters, and books. The display cases are movable and allow the staff to quickly convert the space to an open gathering area for library events. The exhibition features the colors and typefaces of Roth’s signature book jackets. Solar film on windows and operable sun shades help protect collections and moderate the room’s climate.
“An early visit to Roth’s Connecticut home, an early American farmhouse, allowed us to experience its restored rooms and contemporary furnishings just as he left them,” said ABA Principal Thomas Hotaling, in a release. “The time we spent there made clear his appreciation for craft and his ability to beautifully balance heritage with modernism. We wanted to bring a corresponding balance to this renovation, respectfully restoring the space as Roth himself might have known it in his youth. It serves as a setting for a contemporary presentation of his work and life, highlighting his deep connection to Newark, the library, and design itself.”
The build team also included Legacy Engineers (MEP and fire protection), Silman (structural engineer), and C&G Partners (exhibit design).