Formation Follows Function
Can renovations set a new standard for supporting the whole student?
The Formation Space at O’Neill Library brings students together in an environment that addresses intellectual, social and spiritual dimensions — core tenets that support and guide students’ journey into adulthood. A phased construction approach turned furniture pilot & testing opportunity opened up the doors, or in this case the walls, to create varied, collaborative, student-focused spaces that better serve these tenets for today's student.
Named for renowned graduate Tip O’Neill, O'Neill Library is the main research center at Boston College. Located in the heart of campus, the building’s austere mid-century forms are unique within the campus setting of collegiate Gothic architecture and make it somewhat less appealing to the administration and student body. The building, which was designed by The Architects’ Collaborative — one of the most notable firms in post-war modernism — houses traditional library functions, a learning center, digital studio and other technology, as well as study areas, and an exhibit devoted to Tip O’Neill and his legacy.
For all its modernity, the library bears the marks of a traditional academic library: long wooden tables with lights down the center, lines of carrels, rows of stacks and a quiet-study ambiance. Jones was charged with renovating a portion of the fifth floor, newly available to expand student capacity, thanks to a defunct server room and stacks consolidation. Leaders envisioned a space that reflected the school’s philosophy of student formation, which emphasizes the integration of intellectual, social and spiritual aspects of their lives in discerning how they will live in the world.
The decommissioning of the server room and replacement of an aging air-handling unit in the mechanical penthouse above it were part of a first phase in summer 2020. The project phasing gave us the chance to pilot space and furniture types for two quarters before committing to bigger changes. Feedback from the BC community on these pilot projects informed the final project decisions.
With ceilings newly exposed, and an array of mobile, mismatched pilot furniture that was distinctly not heavy or wooden, the area took on a more informal feel than neighboring spaces studded with carrels and study tables. This attracted students, who were encouraged to try out the temporary space. It was open, flexible and collaborative; students could move furniture and set up the space to best serve their needs. Yet again, this reinforced our research that the sense of ownership that comes with a space that can be modified by students “in the moment” will become a very popular destination. Per the college’s formation mission, we also incorporated private, contemplative areas more conducive to quiet study and reflection.
This approach gave us the ability to experiment with space utilization, furnishings and layouts to see what was working – and what wasn’t. The intrigue of a new area and its raw feel quickly gained student attention and ample use. Any concerns that the open areas might get too loud and unruly were soon quelled; students self-policed, even as gathering in group settings clearly became the norm. To everyone’s surprise, the spaces least used were those designed for reflection—perhaps because there are plenty of places for this elsewhere in O’Neill and on campus generally.
As the space was analyzed through utilization and feedback surveys, the students made it clear that the ability to gather and collaborate was very important. Based on this feedback, in the second phase, we incorporated more areas for group study and furniture to support it. It’s the most popular area of the library, which is now attracting more students than prior to the renovation.
Many library renovations focus on media and technology; this one features flexibility and group work and sets the stage for transforming the rest of the fifth floor. Additionally, and perhaps most revealing, it has underscored that for students, formation is strengthened by interaction and collaboration.
"Jones Architecture is a top notch architectural firm with a team of folks who are creative, excellent communicators, detail-oriented, and easy as well as fun to work with. They're equally good at bringing ideas to the table as they are at brainstorming and being open to making last minute adjustments to the project design. I’ve worked with them for over a year on a project tackling different phases of a library renovation, and they have been consistently committed and professional. I cannot recommend the team at Jones enough and look forward to working with them on future projects!"
— Kristina Gardner, Project & Planning Manager, Annual Capital Projects, Boston College
A diverse program of new group study rooms, individual carrels, collaborative booth seating, open reading tables, work counters, active learning sandbox, and rocking chairs are tested in the pilot to support a broad range of working styles and group sizes.
Unsurprisingly, people gravitate to the windows and natural light of the atrium in this library, and most any space! Using this as a guiding principle to open up the edges of the plan, and to wrap the central atrium with occupied space, we take full advantage of the natural light. This reduces electricity demand and provides a healthier experience for occupants.
Principal in Charge: Rick Jones
Project Director: Sarah Tarbet
BR+A Consulting Engineers
Code Red Consultants
Cavanaugh Tocci Associates
Robbie McCabe Consulting