A student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, John Maclane Johansen was among the group of influential architects known as the Harvard Five who are best known for establishing the mid-century modern residential architecture style. The futurist of the group, Johansen was always looking at the next trends to traverse the profession. This is exemplified in the Robert Hutchings Goddard Library that he designed for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1969, which Johansen considered to be “his first modern building” and allowed him to experiment with new forms and functions .
The library is designed from the inside out. At its core sits a rectangular, three-story “box of books” surrounded by a continuous light slot that works almost like a moat, separating book stacks from the reading areas and crossed by concrete bridges connecting the two. Across the light well, a radically different form is expressed, with work carrels, offices and meeting rooms jutting out in as many projections of varying shape and angles. Johansen likened this to the accretion of barnacles on a rock, each orienting itself according to need rather than an orderly aesthetic plan. He is also quoted as saying that he designed his library “as the rear, not the tidy front, of a Xerox copier.” This approach was akin to the Metabolism movement that was being developed in Japan and would come to the forefront of the 1970 World Expo in Osaka.
Interior circulation is nothing like the chaos that an organic aggregate of disparate forms may have predicted. Instead, rooms radiate in an orderly fashion from the corridors and gangways that surround the core. Serrated walls provide privacy between work carrels while keeping them open to circulation, and each tilted window appears precisely designed to maximize sunlight while preventing glare, and all offer bucolic views over the leafy campus.
Underneath the “box of books” was the library’s original lobby space, with a checkout booth and a larger circulation desk. This space has since been reworked into an “Academic Commons” during a 2009 transformation by Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects. The respectful renovation also upgraded glazing and reorganized the entrance area, sadly losing a sculptural Y-shape access ramp in the process, but apart from that and a discreet new glass and concrete projection over the entrance, impact on the original form was kept minimal.
The library is named after Clark University alumnus and professor Robert Goddard, who invented the multi-stage rocket and the liquid-fuel rocket, two technologies that would be instrumental for the development of space travel. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was present for the inauguration on May 19, 1969, just two months before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
The images shown here were taken during my visit in June 2014.
- Lubell, S., & Bradley, D. (2018). Mid-century modern architecture travel guide: East Coast USA. Phaidon Press. p. 49
- Johansen, J. M. (1966). John M. Johansen Declares Himself. Architectural Forum, 124(1), pp. 64–67.
- Charney, M., & Moholy-Nagy, S. (1966, May). The rear end of the Xerox or How I learned to love that library. Architectural Forum, 124(4), 60–61.
- Moholy-Nagy, S. (1969). Architecture through Improvisation? Architectural Forum, 131(2), pp. 40–47.
- Williamson, D. (2021). Robert Hutchings Goddard Library. In G. Esperdy & K. Kingsley (Eds.), SAH ARCHIPEDIA. University of Virginia Press.
- Roth, L. M. (2003). Johansen, John M(aclane). In Grove Art Online. Retrieved November 15, 2022
- Goddard Library. Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects. Retrieved November 15, 2022
- Johansen, C. (2013). John M. Johansen’s Buildings of the 1960s—Brutalism and Beyond. CLOG : Brutalism, pp. 66–67.
- Gigon, A., Guyer, M., Grämiger, G., Schlauri, B., & Traut, U. (Eds.). (2018). Robert H. Goddard Library der Clark University. In Bibliotheksbauten (pp. 202–207). Gta Verlag.
- Abrahamson, M. (2017). Robert H. Goddard Library, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. In O. Elser, P. Kurz, P. Cachola Schmal, F. Torkar, M. Liesner, & D. Deschermeier (Eds.), SOS brutalism: A global survey: A collaboration by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum and the Wüstenrot Foundation (pp. 144–145). Park Books.
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!