In 1896, the University of California in Berkeley convinced the eminent British sinologist and lexicographer John Fryer to leave Shanghai where he had been busy translating and publishing scientific works to establish the University’s first chair of Oriental Languages and Literature. Fryer, also known as Fu Lanya, came to California with his own personal library, which he eventually gifted to the University and founded the institution’s East Asian collection. In 1947, the “East Asiatic Library” joined the UC Berkeley Library system, growing in size thanks to numerous donations and acquisitions.
In 2008, the East Asian Library merged with the Center for Chinese Studies Library to form the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, named after Cornelius Vander Starr, founder of the Starr insurance companies in Shanghai and UC Berkeley alumni. Berkeley is not the only university benefiting from the C.V. Starr Foundation for the support of their libraries, and thus somewhat confusingly, there is another C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University in New York, and yet another one at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
A new building was erected on the UC Berkeley’s Library Quad to host the newly merged collection, designed by Tod Williams & Billie Tsien as a “symmetrical box broken by light”. The interior space is transpierced by a long skylight that divides the space while bringing light to the lowest level. Crossed by bridges and connected by a stone stairway, the opening also acts as a way to read the building’s organization. Niches and vitrines display the library’s collection of artifacts and rare books throughout the building, according to the architects’ vision that there should be “something interesting and beautiful to be found” everywhere.
On the outside, the elegant building conforms to the design guidelines for the campus’ classical core through its pitched tile roof and symmetrical white granite facade. Two monumental sand-cast bronze screens, manufactured in Hangzhou, China, convey the building’s Asian identity, combining both a traditional cracked ice pattern and a contemporary grid. It also acts as a trick device to hide the asymmetrical windows, which only come apparent at night.
- Tod Williams Billie Tsien. C.V. Starr East Asian Library
- UC Berkeley Library. History of the East Asian Library
- Minutillo, Josephine (2009). Tod Williams and Billie Tsien unveil a quiet box full of surprises with the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Architectural Record, 197(1), p. 79.
- Maclay, Kathleen (2008). C.V. Starr East Asian Library to open March 17. UC Berkeley News, March 14, 2008
- UC Berkeley Library. UC Berkeley Campus Research Guide: Architecture
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!