Vassar Today

Modernism, Updated

By Baize Buzan '10

The newly renovated Van Ingen Art Library, closed for the last academic year, reopened in September 2009. The library, tucked between Main Gate and Thompson Library, is named for Henry Van Ingen, Vassar’s first professor of art, described in the anonymously written book Letters from Old-Time Vassar as an “approachable” professor, but one who “stands no nonsense.”

The art librarywas built in 1937 and designed by John McAndrew,who taught architectural history and drafting at Vassar from 1931 to 1937. To commemorate the reopening, Vassar held lectures, tours, an exhibit examining McAndrew’s life and work, and a panel discussion moderated by Nicholas Adams, Vassar’s Mary Conover Mellon Professor in the History of Architecture. Among the distinguished panelists was Charles Platt, principal architect of Platt Byard Dovell White,who directed the renovation along with the late Paul Spencer Byard. Professor Adams worked closely with the architects during the overhaul, which he describes as “a rare example of a historically informed renovation of a modernist building.”

Mostof the critical aspects of McAndrew’s original design have been maintained in the restoration—plentiful natural light, wide surfaces intended for display of materials, and the integration of stacks of books into the spatial design. New technologies geared toward the study of art have been incorporated in the renovation; they include a technology-enhanced seminar room and multiple digital panels placed in group-study areas.

Professor Van Ingen,whose pedagogical tools were plaster casts, charcoal, and paper, could never have dreamed of digital panels. Yet it seems possible that he would nevertheless consider the beauty and practicality of the library that bears his name to be “no nonsense.”

—Baize Buzan '10

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vassar College

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