A historic Carnegie library’s legacy of educational innovation and access is reinvented as the MuseumLab. Opening in 1890, the library was one of the first free US public libraries. It fell into disrepair after lightning struck the library’s clock tower and caused a three-ton piece of granite to crash through the roof, and closed in 2006. Renovated in 2018, it now offers experimental art and technology programs for youth, a Title 1 charter middle school, and space for community events.
Expedient interior alterations from the 1970s were stripped away to reconnect spaces, reintroduce daylight and reveal the bones of the historic architecture. The resulting “beautiful ruin” has sparked imagination and curiosity as it challenged the conventions for both preservation and educational settings.
Universal access, improved environmental performance, and stabilization of a deteriorating envelope were also addressed. Windows were replaced and insulation added to roof and exterior walls to improve environmental responsiveness (LEED gold). Relocation of the elevator and enclosure of the 2nd floor light-well achieved needed accessibility, unified disparate spaces and added a double-height daylit gathering space.
Time, and the remodel, wreaked havoc on the interior ornament: column capitals were sliced, steel armatures exposed, and surface plaster crumbled away. Traditional restoration was not affordable and the emerging archeology of the building clearly offered as an exhibit, in and of itself, a discovery about how things are made.