Students just can't seem to get enough of the newly reopened Furness Building. The building's Fine Arts Library is such a popular study space that many days it is hard to find a place to sit. The library's reading room, with an atrium that extends almost five stories to the leaded-glass skylight, has "instantaneously" become a favorite place for students. "In the evenings, it looks as if this whole place is filled," said Alan Morrison, the Fine Arts librarian. And many students said that they come to Furness not only because it is a good place to study, but because of its beauty. Second-year graduate student Aliya Khan said she enjoys the natural lighting. "It's really nice to sit there [under the skylight] when the sun is setting and you can see the twilight," she said. But today's favorite study space for many students and faculty was nearly demolished in the 1950s. A University plan from the '50s called for the construction of a boulevard that would have gone directly through Furness. Fortunately, architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited campus at the time and praised the building, causing the University to revise its plans. The $16.5 million restoration of Furness, completed last month, began in 1986 under the guidance of Lee Copeland, dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts. Until Van Pelt Library opened in 1962, Furness was the main University library, storing over a million books. But because it was unable to accommodate the unexpected growth of the library and the University, the building was neglected for many years. The building's exterior, shrouded in scaffolding for much of the last four years, stands out on College Green, with an exterior of clean, vibrant shades of red and brown. The interior is marked by an ornate staircase that ascends almost to the top of the tower. The main reading room, with its arches and rotunda, allows natural light to flood onto the spacious reading tables. In addition to the Fine Arts Library, the building, which was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1975, houses the Arthur Ross Gallery, the architectural archives of the GSFA and some classrooms and studios. "[Furness] is not only important to the University and Philadelphia but to American architecture," Copeland said last week. The restoration process just completed was intended to "take the building back as close as possible to its original design," David Marohn, an architect involved in the restoration, said last week. "We were lucky to have so many chronological records and photo evidence," he added. Restoring the library's old bookstacks was difficult, Copeland said, because they were structurally unstable and needed to be entirely redone. "We think it was very successful," Marohn said. "The way the building has been renovated, the collection can expand in the future. That's an important feature of the restoration." And according to those who work in the restored Furness, the library is now particularly comfortable to work in. "We're looking forward to a cool summer in here," said Morrison, who just recently, along with his staff and books, was permitted to move back into Furness from their temporary home in Van Pelt.Comments powered by Disqus
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