The DeForest Public Library is gorgeous and expansive.
It expands its own sense of space and the spirits and minds of anyone trolling the fiction or searching for a spot to sit and read. The space is cohesive and integrated. The interior volume transparently reflects the exterior shape, which will remind of shapes you’ve seen before, substantial and real. The roof is massive and covers the entirety of the interior. Exposed beams, trusses, gussets, thick mullions in the railings, wide and tall sills at the windows, give a heft and weight to the edges of things that solidify your sense of comfort.
The space is lain out as a lofted vault — the librarians can be seen down in the center of the main floor, and they’re visible from almost every point within the building. From where I sit, near the edge of the balcony, I can see down into most of the floor below, and then up across the vault to the platform of bookshelves on the other side. Everything is looped and logical. If a fire broke out, you’d know immediately how to get outside. The whole of the building is palpable at once, regardless of where one sits. The relationship of the parts to the whole is regular and recursive. You feel yourself a part of that larger whole, within something that itself is a thing, something with identity, with interior integrity, and with room to move.
This building looks new. But its style is timeless. It tries to be pretty, it tries to be gracious, it tries to blend in, to contribute — and then it succeeds. Buildings and constructs that spring from those same virtues of space and form are more likely to feel like they’ve always been there. You could imagine them a lifetime ago. You feel like you recognize something, like you’ve seen it before. You couldn’t necessarily remember when it first appeared, or when you first became aware of it. But you feel like you could stare at it, or around it, or through it.
Recursion is the key here and in all good buildings. Recursion bridges the divide between natural and built form. Things made of things, down to the details. By ‘organic,’ we mean ‘recursion.’ What we recognize as ‘form’ as such, in contrast to formlessness, owes specifically to recursion within the structure of the thing. To the extent that buildings respect recursion — and to the extent that they contribute to and integrate into an existing recursive field, whether that field be natural or built — the building will work. It’s composed within the same principle as nature. This is how we recognize something as ‘organic’ in the first place, through an integrated wholeness persistent throughout the depth of field. I don’t pretend to have mastered space as a medium of design. My production is almost trivial. But it’s enough to understand something to be aesthetic, on principle, and see what happens as you get to work.