Committee opposes Berry plans

by Jake Elberg | 11/3/97 6:00am

With the Board of Trustees poised to approve the current plans for the new 80,000 square-foot Berry Library, a majority of the members of the Design Review Committee say the plans are fundamentally flawed, and the enormous building will scar the campus permanently unless the proposal is fixed.

Most of the professors and administrators on the committee, which advises the Trustees on architectural decisions, say the current plans are inappropriate for the College and will split Dartmouth into two architecturally distinct campuses.

College Architect George Hathorn, who chairs the Design Review Committee, called the plans "a tragedy for the campus."

But the Trustees have indicated they like the proposal, and they are unlikely to change the design in any major way, according to a College insider who asked to remain unnamed.

"I could not foresee the Trustees changing their minds at this point," the source said. College President James Freedman also seems to like the current plans. He said yesterday he is "very comfortable" with the current proposal.

"A lot of people have put a lot of time into this building, including one of the best architects in the world -- Robert Venturi," Freedman said.

When the Trustees finalize the plans, they will solicit bids from contractors through the Office of Facilities Planning and Operations. Construction of the $50 million facility is slated to begin behind Baker Library in the spring. The library will be the biggest building in the Trustee's North Campus expansion project.

Freedman told the faculty in an address last week that the Design Review Committee was satisfied with the revised plans for the library -- a claim that was quickly disputed by Art History professor Joy Kenseth, a member of the executive committee of the friends of Dartmouth Library.

"I have spoken to a majority of the members of the committee in the last two weeks and they are not happy with it at all," she said. "I don't know where [Freedman] got that impression. They are not satisfied, and their feeling was that the substantial issues they raised were not addressed."

Freedman said yesterday he did not "remember anyone expressing any reservations" during his most recent meeting with the committee. The plans were altered slightly prior to that meeting in response to some concerns voiced by members of the committee.

The revisions failed to correct the underlying problems with the plans, Hathorn said. But he said the members of the committee serve "at the discretion" of Freedman and the Trustees and have no power to mandate changes to the plans.

"It's the way an institution works," Hathorn said. "It's disappointing, but it's reality."

Kenseth -- claiming to speak on behalf of the Art History faculty in a BlitzMail message -- urged all faculty members to attend a "special meeting" at 4 p.m. this afternoon in 13 Carpenter Hall to review the library plans. Freedman said he will be unable to attend the meeting due to a previous engagement.

In the BlitzMail message, Kenseth criticized the new building's "urban architecture," which she is incompatible with the rest of the campus architect.

She said the new building looks similar to the Burke chemistry laboratory but is almost the length of a football field.

"Its exterior design and enormous length have clear and obvious associations with those of mills, factories, merchandising marts and, most unfortunately, the building projects of Fascism (however unintended this may be)," Kenseth wrote.

"I'm very worried because I think the general understanding was that the architect would respect the present look of the campus," Kenseth said. "The plan calls for a new kind of architecture that really isn't harmonious or compatible with the general look of the architecture on campus now."

Kenseth said she wanted to meet with all of the faculty so they could see the plans as she has seen them.

"Everybody who has seen the plans is in agreement with me," Kenseth said. "It's a matter of getting to see the plans and the elevations."

Although the majority of the committee objects to the building's exterior design, they are satisfied with its interior, Hathorn said. The plans for the interior created controversy in February 1996 when faculty members complained the new library would devote too much space to computers and meeting areas, while doing little to alleviate the College's overflow of books.

Sixty-four members of the faculty signed a petition stating that Berry's design "could adversely affect the future of both teaching and scholarship at Dartmouth."

In May 1996, the Library Building Committee released proposals for the Baker and Berry libraries, which will include a student coffeehouse, more varied study space and the office of administrative computing.