The Digital Images and Slide Collection at Harvard College’s Fine Arts Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, houses more than 750,000 images in 35-millimeter-slide and digital formats. Visitors can scrutinize details of a fireplace in the 1885 Edward Ayer Residence in Chicago, or a 17th-century Turkish carpet from the Ottoman period, its intricate star pattern eaten by time.
Until recently, the collection was tucked into the basement of the Fogg Museum, on campus. But when the building at 32 Quincy Street that housed both the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums closed for renovation in 2008, the slide collection needed a new, dedicated home of its own. Harvard chose the basement of the Sackler Museum as the new location, even though the dark, rough space was less than ideal for browsing Wikipedia on an iPad, let alone time travel by way of a lantern slide (the earliest form of photographic slide for projection, which was developed in the 19th century).
Transforming the basement into a serene environment conducive to research was a three-phase process that included demolition, modification, and, finally, relocation. “There’s a certain bittersweet quality to the collection,” says architect Kevin Daly, of Santa Monica—based Daly Genik, the firm tapped to tackle the project. As an increasing amount of research shifts to the Internet, slides are becoming antiques to be archived. In addition to having to complete the project without interrupting class schedules or shutting down the museum, one of Daly’s biggest challenges was lighting the 5,000-square-foot space.
“Ultimately, if there’s ever a program that’s fundamentally about light, it’s the slide library,” says Daly. However, the room had clearance of 14 feet in some areas and less than 9 in others, and the only source of daylight in the partially subgrade facility is a bank of six clerestory windows that curve around its northwest corner. To illuminate the deep interior, the architect and his team transformed the ceiling into a continuous plane of light, concealing infrastructure, fire protection, security systems, and 3500 Kelvin (K) T5 fluorescent lamping with an undulating surface of white corrugated, perforated metal panels. The configuration of the structures and mechanicals above the ceiling dictated its form. The ingenious ceiling system diffuses and reflects light throughout the space — acting as an integral luminaire. Warm plywood surfaces, used in staff offices and for casework, along with concrete walls and floors, complement the ceiling’s soft, effective glow.
To provide access to m/e/p systems for maintenance, the architects snipped and cut the panels, forming broken planes that hint at the plenum’s anatomy. Light switches with scalable levels eliminate the need for dimmers. This scheme also dispenses with the need to turn on groups of lights, leaving other areas dark.
For a slide-viewing area, Daly and his team worked with LED consultants eLumanation to design and fabricate a pair of contemporary media “light tables” compliant with 5000K standards of color transparency evaluation. Each table accommodates viewers with individual LED “place mats” made of translucent acrylic enclosing dimmable LED panels (with tabletop controls) inserted into a softly beveled wood base clad with a thin sheet of aluminum.
“One of the things that is surprisingly successful is that we didn’t end up with a sterile place,” says Daly. “We get decent color.” The scheme provides a place for each slide drawer, so Daly became familiar with all of the library’s contents, including the lantern slides, many of them compiled for art history courses. “These are amazing pieces of intellectual history,” says Daly. “They are an archive all their own — how people thought about works of art and how they related them to others.”
Kevin Daly, AIA, principal-in-charge, Tom Perkins, project manager, Jason Pytko, Gretchen Stoecker, Kody Kellogg
Architect of record
Plumbing / Fire Protection
Electrical / Lighting / Fire Alarm
10 City Square
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1661 Worcester Road Suite 501
Acoustical Ceiling Tiles (offices)
Acoustical Wall and Ceiling Panels
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Paints and stains: