Skip to content ↓

Music library reopens in style

Visitors to the expanded Rosalind Denny Lewis Music Library which reopened in late October find themselves immersed in music--but not only in ways one would expect.

In addition to having greater access to MIT's growing collection of scores, books and recordings-many of which have spent years in storage-patrons are surrounded by elegant architectural details which echo shapes found in musical instruments.

Fittingly, the architectural design features recurring motifs and themes. MIT Staff Architect Melanie Brothers, who also designed the music practice rooms in Building 4, was inspired by the shapes of instruments in the violin family in creating a mezzanine lined with a hand-curved maple railing and mahogany detailing in the shape of violin bows, a grand flowing staircase, and entry doors with a violin-shaped door pull.

The new circulation desk matches the curves of the mezzanine and incorporates the bow design as well. The curved fascia design on the mezzanine and reception desk is made out of light-colored sycamore with a figured pattern to accent the curves. On the ground level with a wall of windows facing the new Lipchitz Courtyard, an arc of chairs features contemporary, upholstered lounge seating which can be molded to the individual's body. "Even the carpet pattern follows the lines of the curves," said Ms. Brothers, adding that she was delighted to work on such a creative project.

A distinctive feature is the glasswork panels lining the curved outline of the mezzanine: etched upon them is a two-part canon especially composed by Institute Professor John Harbison. The glasswork designs were created by MIT alumnus John Powell, who sandblasted the notes and score lines of Professor Harbison's canon in the composer's original hand.

The library's new amenities include a computerized card catalogue, 22 listening carrels on the mezzanine level, a listening lounge, a small group listening room, a conference room, a group listening/video viewing room, a recording preservation studio, an electric keyboard, a photocopying machine, a climate-controlled room for special collections, expanded study space and built-in speakers throughout the open reception area. The library's books, printed music and sound recordings are housed in compact shelving which moves on tracks and allows the collection to expand well into the 21st century.

"Our CD collection, which now numbers 4,500, has the room to grow to 28,000 discs," said Music Librarian Peter Munstedt, who plans to use the new equipment, sound system and space in an evening concert series.

Half the construction funding was provided by Cherry Emerson (SB '41). "We are grateful that Mr. Emerson extended his generosity to include a visual-musical adornment of the new library, which I hope will please both eyes and ears," said Professor Harbison, who commented that he had never before composed with visual elements in mind. Mr. Powell, who graduated from the Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1989 and was a CAVS Fellow from 1991-93, also fabricated light fixtures of cylindrical glass with musical score lines which will be installed shortly.

Other significant donors for the project include Sandra and David Bakalar '51, whose gift will name the Listening Center on the mezzanine; Lawrence Erdmann '63, whose gift will name the Special Collections Room; Ray and Maria Stata '57; Cynthia duPont Tobias '72; Gerald Austen '51; Dorothea and Brad Endicott '49; Carlos Prieto '58; Robert Millard '73; Norton Belknap '50; Dan and Ruth Vershbow '45; Marilyn Hoffman; Peter Wender '71; Frances Fahnestock; Gordon Getty; and Anne and Bruce Blomstrom '59.


Mr. Emerson named the library for the wife of the late MIT Professor Warren K. ("Doc") Lewis, Mr. Emerson's mentor and advisor at MIT. Mrs. Lewis was also Mr. Emerson's mother-in-law, as he married the Lewis' daughter, Mary. In another family connection, Mr. Emerson's niece-Professor Lewis' granddaughter-is Rosalind Williams, dean for undergraduate education.

Mr. Emerson also commissioned Atlanta artist Amelia James to paint portraits of Ms. Lewis and Ellen T. Harris, MIT's first associate provost for the arts, to hang in the library. Ms. Lewis's portrait is taken from a photograph of her on her graduation day from Radcliffe, while Dr. Harris sat for her portrait here at MIT.

A formal dedication will be held for invitees in early December.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 6, 1996.

Related Topics

More MIT News