Libraries I like: Brown’s Friedman Study Center

Bright colors make a big difference. Photo by the Brown University Class of 60.
Bright colors make a big difference. Photo by the Brown University Class of '60.

I liked Yale’s Mudd Library for its endearing obsolescence, but for the Study Space of the Future, you can’t beat the Friedman Study Center in Brown University’s Science Library.

The Friedman Study Center, which opened in 2007, is a 24-hour study space designed by the Architecture Research Office. It’s in the basement of Brown’s Science Library, a Brutalist monster that’s about as inviting as a prison. The study center, though, plays against the cave-like, concrete walls of the library with exposed cables, bright colors, and an open atmosphere.

The scary exterior of the Brown Science Library. Photo from Wikipedia.
The scary exterior of the Brown Science Library. Photo from Wikipedia.

The study center’s in the basement, but it offers plenty of natural light (a big necessity for me) thanks to walls of glass opening on sunken courtyards. It’s divided into a number of “microenvironments,” each marked with the permissible decibel level: computer clusters, study spaces, gathering areas, group study rooms. The lobby entrance to the Science Library houses a cafe and bright, comfortable furniture.

Several things really make the study center work for me.

  • It’s flexible. There are semi-enclosed carrels, for when I really need to write, and there are couches for when I really need to nap. There are printers and scanners and media clusters for when I really need to print and scan and media-cluster.
  • It’s casual. Going to the study center doesn’t feel like a big, intimidating thing. You can eat and drink there, you can have a conversation, you can spy on other users. The study center feels like part of everyday life, rather than a cordoned-off academic space.

    You can write on the glass walls of the study rooms, just for fun.
    You can write on the glass walls of the study rooms, just for fun. Photo from Tillotson Design Associates, which designed the lighting.
  • It’s fun. The study center recognizes the importance of playfulness. I like the bright colors, the glass write-on walls of the study rooms, the call-number decorations — all the stuff that serves no real purpose except that it’s cool.

The study center (which everyone at Brown just calls the Sci Li) is a big hit with students. In fact, its few drawbacks are really a result of its popularity. There’s only one bathroom for each sex, so there’s always a long line. Someone’s always talking on his or her cell phone, despite the posted decibel levels. And there’s often a shortage of available computers in the clusters.

As a result, if I reallyreallyreally need to get work done and I’mnotmessingaroundthistimeit’sreallyserious, I’ll head up to one of the quieter floors in the library. But for everyday work, I’m happy to be at the Sci Li.

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