Phillips Exerter Academy Library, Exerter, NH


The Phillips Exerter Academy Library is an architectural masterpiece designed by the late architect Louis Kahn.  As always photographs never really let the viewer experience the grandeur and reverence this building demands and experiencing this building in person is an overwhelming and somewhat haunting experience.  I had a similar experience much like my visit to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello where you could really feel the presence of the Designer in the building and as you walked on the grounds.  The central space of Exerter library has four massive circles which reminded me that knowledge we gain from books is never ending much like a circle which has no end and keeps going into eternity.  What a beautiful illustration told from a simple geometric shape.  I also love how the massive circular voids offer a window into each level making the rows of books a kind of ornament.  On all four sides of the building there study quarters for the students then behind the study quarters are the library's collection of books.  This horizontal layering filters sunlight to provide a nice soft light in the central space.  The play on light in Exerter is absolutely outstanding and Kahn had to have known how the light would penetrate each and every space before it was built.  I had heard architecture is where science and art meet and find this to be true in many amazing buildings and for instance the ceiling of the central space has a large x-shape which direct sunlight falls upon throughout the day and at a certain time the direct sun folds onto the angle of the "x" as seen below in the second photograph.  I would like to believe this is a calculated view and Kahn must have known how the light and shadows would "dance" on these planes.  The entrance is another amazing design of the building and faintly reminded me of Wright's Guggenheim entrance.  In Exerter's case one walks through the very small entrance door and the ceiling above appears to be pressing down on you then you're met with a grand marble staircase that give the feeling of "ascension".  At the top of the staircase you are met with pure space and look up toward the ceiling and feel as if you are ascending to this heavenly light above.  It really is a wonderful feeling and really gives scale in relation to the space. The levels of floors appear to be beautifully suspended behind the large circles but are supported by hidden columns where each of the central space corners meet. This illusion lets the floors appear light as a feather which is a great contrast from the heaviness of the concrete circles.  If you are ever in the New Hampshire area please visit this building.  You will not be disappointed.