Ringling College Expands And Enlivens Campus Library

At the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL, collaborative spaces and custom furniture were cornerstones of the library redesign.

library design
Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL (Photo: Thos. Moser Contract)

The Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the Ringling College of Art and Design is a state-of-the-art building that seeks to transform the way that users engage with library collections and services. Opened in January 2017, the 46,000 square foot building features a library design that changed the space into an active physical and digital destination on the Ringling College campus.

Building a brand new library was a unique opportunity for Ringling College. Founded in 1931, creatives from every corner of the world come to this Sarasota, FL institution to deepen, transform, and explore their passions. The school’s 1,400 students are fueled by a need to create — and the College delivers the tools to turn passion into profession: an award-winning faculty, cutting-edge technology, and a supportive, creative community.

But, the existing library failed to fit into this mission, as it was dated, small, and decidedly low tech. In an effort to provide students with a facility that would allow them to succeed, the project team set out to quadruple the size of the building and integrate new teaching and learning spaces. They also sought to create collaborative areas where the College’s special collections items could be used for research and exploration.

library design
Photo: Thos. Moser Contract

“Aside from some open space there wasn’t much opportunity for collaboration and the existing facility didn’t act as a modern library,” said Angela Watson, AIA, principal of Shepley Bulfinch, the architectural and interior design firm on the project. “We needed to create a place that would allow for the exchange of ideas, facilitate teaching and bolster special collections,” she added. The project’s associate architect was Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota, FL.

Displaying the special collections in new and creative ways was a driving force of the project. The existing space was no longer able to accept donations because of storage limitations. Since many of the collection pieces are three-dimensional objects, rather than just books, they needed a place to be safely kept, displayed and studied.

A Design-Forward Library of the Future

After carefully studying the needs of students, faculty, and librarians, the architectural design team set out to create a contemporary building that would greet visitors and serve as a comfortable, familiar space.

Open and transparent, the library’s ground floor is a hub of activity, revealing the life within. Internally, the building is organized by layers of activity, progressing from most active to quietest as users move from ground floor to upper floors and along the east- west axis from campus edge to bayou. A series of outdoor terraces on the upper floors offer views and vantage points of the campus, providing sources of inspiration and different perspective.

library design
Photo: Thos. Moser Contract

“The second and third floor is where you see the bulk of the collections,” said Watson. “We lined the special collections room with wood to create a warm, glowing space that is reminiscent of a jewel box. This contrasts with the center core of the building which is wrapped in a contemporary bold graphic mural that runs up all three floors.”

This indoor-outdoor, biophilic design ties nature back into the space while shelving and classrooms feature more prominent, vibrant colors that draw the eye and add a sense of excitement and attitude.

Furniture Takes Center Stage In Library Design

The use of custom furniture pieces played an important role in the project. A variety of furniture from Thos. Moser Contract is found throughout the facility, serving as important gathering spaces for faculty, librarians and students to engage and browse through the College’s vast array of special collections. With its craftsman in Maine, Thos. Moser Contract designs and makes furniture for hospitality, corporate and educational environments. Each piece is handmade using carefully selected, sustainably harvested American hardwoods.

library design
Photo: Thos. Moser Contract

Throughout the design process, the College made it clear that faculty and librarians wanted to be able to teach in flexible ways. This approach manifested in a combination of workshops, collaborative spaces and easy access to special collections items. Since this is nearly impossible in traditional library stacks, the design team created a layered approach that allows occupants to go from tech-heavy study rooms and classroom spaces into collaborative spaces with displays, shelves and storage.

This collaborative environment is where Thos. Moser Contract played an important part in the overall success of the project. Nestled between the classrooms and research stacks are large wooden tables. Students and faculty can stand or sit around them, and the standing desks are custom pieces that serve as central communication pieces for engagement and discussion. This simple yet often overlooked arrangement was key in allowing users to connect with art and each other in meaningful ways.

During the specification process, the designers worked with Thos. Moser Contract’s dedicated internal team to select a warm, clean, and simple design aesthetic for the furniture. From there, the brand’s craftspeople, put their time honored traditions to work. With a reverence for detail, application and a vision for finished environments, the team hand-built each piece, marking the finished product with their individual signatures after completion.

“This decision was truly about the relationship between materials and people,” added Watson. “It was important that the tables were solid, high quality, and heavy. There’s something about this combination that allows people’s minds to settle — you aren’t just sitting at a temporary space, you’re sitting down to accomplish something.”

The design team settled on a combination of Thos. Moser’s Element collection and custom-designed tables for the special collections rooms as well as custom-designed tables for reading rooms. Designed by former Thos. Moser director of design and product development, Adam Rogers, the Element collection honors classic Thos. Moser design principals.

“Thos. Moser Contract was deliberately chosen to bring the right aesthetic, quality, craftsmanship and permanence to this project, and it accomplishes these in spades,” said Watson. “Ringling College is all about design, and so is Thos. Moser. The pieces are a perfect fit and will serve the College for generations to come.”