Whether it is a tin storage shed or a Greek temple, architecture should support, not only the function of the space, but define the space. An example of meaningful design can be found at the Wilmington Public Library on King Street, originally designed by Alfred Githens and Edward Tilton in 1922.
EDiS is currently renovating and modernizing the Wilmington Library, while it is under construction, I would like to take the time to review key characteristic of the original design.
Since each space is in competition to conquer the user’s attention, a building must capture, illustrate and define what it provides. Originally, buildings did not have signs to indicate their use; the building’s architecture had to define their use.
The Wilmington Public Library space is in competition with Rodney Square and the other adjacent buildings. Utilizing classical architecture techniques, similar to ancient Greek temples, the exterior façade of the library defines its use and order of importance. One of the techniques used is that the library’s entrance is higher than the adjacent areas. This elevation change dictates that the library has a dominating hierarchy over the square. In addition to the elevation, another technique used is that the exterior façade replicates something similar to the temples. The strong stone block and towering columns further tie the building into a place of importance.
Examining the columns provides more information on the use of this space. Classical columns can be divided into, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders: each order defines a different meaning. The library follows the Ionic order. By utilizing the scroll or volutes of the Ionic order, the capitals atop the columns offer a relationship to the ratios used in architecture. These scrolls can be dissected using Vitruvius concepts. Vitruvius, who is considered one of the first architects, utilized ratios or the Golden Mean to define size and shape of buildings. One of Vitruvius best-known concepts was illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man (shown at right). This is the icon of the man in the circle and just as the man was defined; utilizing the circle or the Golden Mean so could these scrolls.
Above the columns and capitals is the building’s frieze: a band of images. Friezes were utilized on Temples to tell a story or identify the building. One could consider the frieze being similar to the neon signs identifying the casinos in Vegas. On the Wilmington Library, the frieze (shown at right) has two main icons repeated: a mystical animal and blue roses. These icons carry the meanings of power, wisdom and mystery. The animal or Egyptian style sphinx represents power and wisdom. Sphinxes were used to represent guardians of the space. The intriguing part of the design is that the lion has its paw resting on a book. This additional illustration, on a typical Greek icon, creates a link to the image of the Lion of St. Mark. This adaptation pulls in the additional meanings of Wisdom and Knowledge, represented by the Lion of St. Mark. Not done promoting the building, the frieze has a further message. Next to the sphinxes are fountains and four blue roses. These roses are unattainable and indicate mystery. Using these images within the frieze illustrates this building embraces activities has to support the mystery of power and wisdom.
When we are done, stop by the Wilmington Public Library to read, not only the stories with in, but also the story of the building itself depicts.
Jeff Isbert is a project manager with the EDiS Company. A native of Middletown, Jeff graduated from UNLV with dual degrees in Architecture and Construction Management and previously worked with Wynn Design and Development.