01 Dec 2005

Baker’s back

After a two-year renovation and expansion, Baker Library is open for business. Take a step inside the School’s intellectual and physical center—a well-crafted balance of past, present, and future
by Susan Young


From the Charles River, the newly renovated Baker Library looks very much as it has for the past seventy-some years — stately columns, enormous windows, the signature bell tower. But a closer inspection reveals a few subtle changes. The back of the building has been extended, and the removal of a center wall offers a glimpse of Western Avenue in the distance. The slate tiles on the roof have been redone, and there is a new shine to the cupola.

Upon entering Baker, visitors familiar with the original building will see that changes on the outside are minimal compared with those on the inside. The large black-and-white checkered marble floor is familiar, if expanded, but there is a new sense of space in the main entrance area that is both inviting and grounding. An open central stairway makes it clear where to find the Reading Room. Enhanced spaces for Historical Collections and faculty interaction surround the north, river-facing lobby, and the new south entrance is home to The Exchange, a gathering place offering real-time news and business information. Faculty offices line the upper floors of the south side of the building. While the interior is fresh, climate-controlled, and technologically advanced, much of the majesty of the original building remains. There is a comfortable hint of the past as well as a sparkling nod to the future.

In the early 1990s, the School began to consider a master plan for its future campus. An important item on the agenda was rethinking Baker Library, the School’s intellectual — and physical — center. Part of the original HBS campus, Baker was dedicated in 1927 and initially housed books, classrooms, and offices. While the library’s world-class collections had developed significantly over the years, the building itself had become outdated.

Two aspects of Baker that needed immediate attention were its lack of climate controls (uncomfortable for patrons, devastating for collections) and the inaccessibility of its stacks. Conversations took off from there, covering everything from how important it was to have books in the library (answer: very), to whether more space was needed (absolutely), to debates about how much of the original structure should be preserved (a good bit). A task force set out to investigate the current and future needs of the library, and in 2001 a plan was set in place.

Weighing costs and benefits, the School determined that the best plan was to divide the building roughly in half and completely renovate the north portion (the side that faces the Charles River) and demolish the south side so it could be expanded and rebuilt. A deep excavation on the south side, one of the trickiest aspects of the project, allowed workers to relocate the stacks underground. This move made it possible to open up the main floor, add a new entrance, and increase capacity by about 41,000 square feet for office and gathering spaces.

The renovation is the result of collaboration between the School’s Department of Operations, several internal HBS committees, and teams of outside experts. “One of the things we did really well was hire the right people,” says Frank Hayes (PMD 75, 2000), who oversaw the project for Operations. Hayes credits the success of the project to the expertise of architect Robert A.M. Stern, several preservationists, and Skanska USA, the construction manager. The School’s internal structure of an executive committee and fifteen subcommittees also provided clear direction.

“This was a terrific project,” says Bob Stern, who also designed Spangler Center. “I think we affected the culture of the School with Spangler, and Baker has given us a chance to do even more. We’ve turned the building around — it used to be on the edge of the campus, and now it is in the middle. Even more exciting is seeing people rediscover the building and use it in new ways.”

One of the key decisions about the renovation made early on centered on the crucial role of books. Electronic resources, of course, were also deemed important, but not at the expense of books.

It was clear that HBS’s vast — and rare — holdings were not only a vital part of the School’s past but also its future. Thus, the new building was designed with a Historical Collections reading room (named in honor of the de Gaspé Beaubien family’s support for the collections), a storage facility, and space for a conservation laboratory. In addition, with two new subterranean floors of stacks, the bulk of the library’s collections are now easily accessible and safely stored on campus (with some lesser-used volumes kept off-site, just a 24-hour request away).

The library’s most-referenced books are shelved in the completely renovated Reading Room, now named after Penny and Roe Stamps (MBA ’74), who supported the restoration. The original mahogany window frames in this vast space have been replaced with historically accurate matches and brought up to code with double-glazed panes. The room’s restoration involved many highly specialized craftspeople who worked carefully to bring the white oak shelves, plaster ceilings, skylights, and enormous wooden tables back to their original grandeur.

The largest business library in the world, the new Baker Library is also designed to be an academic center, a place where visiting scholars discuss their work with students or faculty, classmates partner on research projects, and the seeds of joint ventures are sowed.

Because the new building provides more space for faculty offices (67 in all), the entire HBS faculty is now housed in three adjacent buildings — Baker, Rock Center, and Morgan Hall. The Frist Faculty Commons includes three seminar rooms and a lounge and food-service area.

“Business problems don’t arise just within functions,” notes HBS professor Steven Wheelwright, the senior associate dean charged with overseeing the renovation project. “Having a place where people can interact informally has already proved to be a great way to stimulate valuable collaboration.”

Similarly, the south entrance’s Exchange is designed to foster community. With the feel of a living room much like the common areas of Spangler, The Exchange has eight large plasma displays that provide the latest business and financial information. Members of the HBS community can also use workstations in this area to access research tools, including Bloomberg, Thomson StreetEvents, and S&P Ratings Direct. For those who would rather read a newspaper than power up a laptop, there are nineteen international and U.S. business publications available.

The new Baker Library, which was dedicated on September 19, 2005 (see sidebar, page 27), will offer what Baker’s executive director Mary Lee Kennedy calls a “full-menu experience.” Visitors interested in new media are able to use the latest technology to access information electronically. Scholars can examine 15th-century manuscripts in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room. Exhibitions in the library’s corridors will bridge the past and present, drawing parallels between historic happenings and recent events. Faculty members can bounce ideas off each other over a cup of coffee. Readers can explore the stacks, perhaps taking what they find to a comfortable chair in the Stamps Reading Room.

And Kennedy hopes to see people dispersed throughout the building, gathering to share information and ideas, a sign that the new library is fulfilling its broader mission. “We want to improve the way that people generate and disseminate ideas,” observes Kennedy. “We are working to ensure that the library has the information, knowledge, and experience to share the School’s intellectual capital with the world.”


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