1990-1992 ADDITION TO THE LIBRARY
Within a few years of Central Library’s opening in 1971, it was considered too small. Student enrollment had more than doubled, library staff numbers had increased, and the collections had grown so quickly that more than 300,000 volumes had to be stored off-site.
The original intention for expansion had been to do an addition in 1976, and Pereira had included such in his original plans. But the expansion of the Library wasn’t funded until 1990, and the Pereira plan, an addition cascading down into the canyon to the north of the building, was not to be implemented.
Gunnar Birkerts, an internationally-renowned architect whose office was in Michigan, was selected as the designer of the Library addition. Birkerts worked with the San Diego firm of BSHA, under the leadership of Gordon Carrier, a former student of Birkerts.
Central Library Addition Site plan
The dark green color indicates the addition on the three sides of the Library, with the glass “arms” extending south from the entrance.
Birkerts’ original design proposed building part of the addition underground while capturing space from the largely unused Forum level. The campus community, however, rejected such interference with their landmark building. Birkerts second, accepted design was the brilliant light canyon that forms a u-shape around the west, south, and east sides of the Pereira building, almost all below the level of the Forum. Groundbreaking took place in March of 1990.
Birkerts noted: “I think it was the first time an architect was invited to San Diego and then asked to be invisible.” What is visible are the jagged, above-ground protrusions…the splendid two-story skylights that dot the perimeter off the addition, allowing light into the first and second floors, while the addition’s glass curtain wall faces and reflects the landmark tower structure of Pereira’s original building.
Proposals for the Library Addition landscape plan, 1988
Gift of Wimmer Yamada and Caughey
Scrapbook album of first Library Addition, 1987-1993
Created by Library staff and presented to Chancellor Richard Atkinson at the opening ceremony
Silent tree by Terry Allen in front of Geisel Library. The new library entrance was in mirrored glass and concrete, with no lawns; the artist decided that the tree should be "replanted" right in the middle of this "denatured" site, rather than being disguised somewhere else.
Both under construction and completed, Central Library, now Geisel Library, provides a wealth of photo opportunities, even of the reflected stacks. Until the Birkerts expansion, the Pereira building was seen through a screen of trees, a device that softened the massive statement of the Library structure.