Rakow Research Library

Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York

The Rakow Library is the world's pre-eminent repository on the history and technology of glass. The Library's facility was designed in response to a number of demanding criteria: the need to provide a secure environment for the library's irreplaceable collection, the need to carefully control environmental conditions, and the need to protect the collection from the risks associated with the museum's location in a flood plain.

Originally housed within the Museum of Glass building, continual expansion of the collection necessitated its relocation. After various locations on the campus were evaluated, the Library was located within the shell of a vacant 1966 office building. This renovation choice was dictated less by economy than by the advantages of its location and the expansion opportunities available within the building's shell.

The renovation took the form of a radical reconstruction, including significant reinforcement of the steel structure to permit future installation of compact shelving. This restructuring process afforded several design opportunities, including openings in the second floor linking upper and lower levels.

Mechanical, electrical and finish systems were entirely replaced. Their design was heavily influenced by conservation requirements. In addition to very narrow temperature and humidity tolerances, the building systems feature advanced air filtration, a fire suppression system designed to minimize potential water damage, and careful segregation of heating and plumbing piping to avoid the risk of leaks in collection areas. Finishes were chosen to minimize the introduction of air-borne contaminants.

The new library's architecture celebrates glass, thematically relating the building to its library subject and to the Museum's nearby Glass Center. Extraordinary glass detailing characterizes the "building within a building" which houses the collection, as well as special features such as glass-floored stairs and bridges. The south-facing reading areas enjoy a river view through a glass sunscreen. This screen serves as a large "environmental sculpture," transforming the character of the former office building. Its metallic and etched linear patterns interact with seasonal sun angles to maximize visual transparency while excluding direct sunlight from the library's interior.
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