Student project is all about making KU library more inviting, practical and comfy
photo by: Lauren Fox
In the stacks of the University of Kansas’ Watson Library, a warm glow emanates from the end of certain book rows.
Some study carrels, once blue and metal to match the stacks, are now made of wood and cast softer light for students seeking a quiet atmosphere. On a recent afternoon, numerous students sat in the renovated carrels on the fourth floor.
KU sophomore Liam Connolly said the old carrels looked “kind of scary and not inviting,” but he’s “really digging the whole vibe” on the fourth floor, which features wood paneling, terracotta tiles and varied desk heights.
These new carrels were designed by KU architecture students as part of their design-build class with professor Paola Sanguinetti.
The class is meant “to give the students a compressed version of what it would be to go through an entire design project,” she said of her Architecture 509 course. “It is an amazing feat to produce a project of this type in one semester with students who are learning.”
It was also special for the class to work on a project for the university. Austin McCarty, a third-year architecture student who was part of the design-build process last semester, said that typically the projects occurred off campus.
“It was nice to be able to have something that I can actually walk past every day and use,” McCarty, of Overland Park, said.
He noted that a focus of the project was to create renovated carrels that were both private and yet not too enclosed. Partitions between carrels are wood panels that allow light to travel through them. But the panels also have terracotta tiles that add visual interest and serve as an acoustic buffer.
Connolly said he appreciated the soft lighting in the new carrels.
“Before, it was just really direct, like a prison almost,” the Chicago native said of the lights in the older study carrels.
Audrey Puntney, a KU sophomore who was studying in a different carrel, called the new design unique.
She just discovered the renovated section recently, she said, and has stopped going to the older carrels because she feels she can get more work done in the updated ones.
“It’s more practical,” she said. “It’s a lot more comfy and I feel like I can study a lot better since there’s outlets.”
Puntney, originally from Platte City, Mo., did note that she does enjoy the quirkiness of the old carrels, mentioning that there’s a lot of vandalism and graffiti on them — such as student names.
The carrels are a beloved part of the library, said Christy McWard, executive director of communications and advancement for KU Libraries. The fourth-floor carrels were not the first to get updated. In 2017, carrels on the third floor were renovated and designed by a different architecture class. Some of these carrels are lounges on which students can read or even take a nap. There are also numerous carrels on other floors of Watson Library that have not been updated.
The 2017 project was funded by donors, many of whom have fond memories of their time studying in the carrels. Their names, or the names of their family members or favorite professors, are labeled on the renovated carrels on the third floor. Funding that was received for that project continued to fund the fourth-floor renovation.
Mahbub Rashid, interim dean of the School of Architecture and Design, called the renovation project a “win-win” for students and the university.
“Our students get the experience and the university gets the benefit at a lower cost,” he said.
Sanguinetti, the professor who led the fourth-floor renovation project, said it spanned three semesters but that the entire design-build process was completed by students in her fall 2019 course.
Her projects seek to expose students to learning through making and integrating computational tools for design and fabrication. For this project, students used a robotic arm to 3D-print the terracotta panels.
Though the fourth-floor carrels are currently in use, there are a few more touch-ups to be completed, Sanguinetti noted. Those should be finished by the end of the semester.
McWard said the renovations were “designed by students, for students,” and called the third- and fourth-floor renovations more than a class project.
“It’s really a lasting legacy for future Jayhawks,” she said.