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Brutal Library

A guide devoted to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Axinn Library building.

Provost Greetings

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Internationalization Neil Donahue opened the Symposium by welcoming attendees, and brought greetings from the Provost. His remarks are excerpted here:

I’ve been around long enough to say with confidence what we all know on campus: our life here very literally revolves around Axinn Library as we rush in and out and all about. It’s the landmark that we all always see and against which we measure our distances on campus. Axinn library is the dynamic center that organizes our daily existence on campus. We all have our particular memories: from my early years, around 1990, I recall seeing the library emblazoned on large chocolate bars at the large wonderful conference on Chocolate: Food of the Gods (which made Axinn Library then into some sort of Olympus, home of the gods, or rather Aztec temple), but also I recall rushing up to the 10th floor a decade later to see the plumes of smoke coming off the World Trade Center on 9/11, and then again, another decade later, coming here with the family after SuperStorm Sandy, when it was a still a well-lit place to feel safe, stay connected and re-charge our batteries … But across these same decades, I’m not sure it has been clear to most of us whether the library building (upon which we so much depend) actually represented an architectural style or a monumental absence of style. Over the years, many features had been covered over somehow, the hard edges disguised by curtains and clutter, domesticated into a banality not originally its own. We owe to former Dean of the Library Dan Rubey the proud restoration of the interior to its original architectural idiom, to its modernist, futurist, indeed Brutalist spirit of, dare I say, Utopian adventure, of hard-edged clarity and efficiency and artful minimalism. The library immediately boomed in traffic and use: it became a cool place to be. In that same spirit, the staircase, which used to just look like a factory fire exit, now seeks to inspire with images: as soon as you enter and start to climb, you soar over bridges, past beaches, in the company of Long Island authors, all the way out to the Montauk lighthouse. One feels like a superhero just walking up the stairs… But in that spirit, speaking of real superheroes, I’d like to congratulate Howard Graves and the whole library staff on all they do here day after day to help us all in our scholarly pursuits and in organizing this celebration of the history and style of Axinn library, and in turn of the campus and university community, whose identity the library is so much a part of. I’m delighted to welcome to campus our distinguished conference speakers, who will situate Axinn Library in its proper art-historical contexts, reveal its intellectual underpinning and expose its conceptual rebar, as it were (on that note, I should add that any actual spots of exposed rebar you might notice outside should not be misconstrued as delayed maintenance, but acknowledged as our self-conscious, metacognitive reminders of the constructed-ness, the artifice, of Brutalist architecture and all human activity).

Brutalism as a vision offers, very literally, concrete ideas or ideas in concrete that combine bulky utilitarian monumentality with a surprisingly lightness and elegance, like our Unispan, that signature flourish on the library’s stylistic statement, bridging the campus and every day bringing people and ideas together, like this symposium today, fulfilling the vision of the building and the university. Thank you.

*Complete text of Dr. Donahue's remarks is online at the Academic Affairs Blog.

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