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​Historic Knight Library: Art & Architecture

Guide to the art and architecture of the 1937 historic Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene.

EXTERIOR FEATURES OF THE NORTH FACADE

ARCHITECTURAL STYLE

In the description of the library in the Ellis Lawrence Building Survey, Michael Shellenbarger characterized the style of the historic Knight Library as ‘exotic’, a vague term meaning that it borrowed from other cultures, but likely a reference to 19th and early 20th century revival styles.  In the quest to define the building’s style, the phrase “modernized Lombardy and Greco-Roman” is also used.  The original elevation was definitely Collegiate Gothic in appearance, a popular style of a decade earlier, with the University of Washington's Suzallo Library (1923) as an example in the Pacific Northwest.  By 1934, Lawrence's plan took a more Classical appearance, and the ornamentation is primarily in the vein, with the exception of the occasional references to native plants and animals also evidenced in the earlier Museum of Art.

BUILDING MATERIAS

The library is constructed with reinforced concrete with hollow tile block beneath the brick and cast stone surface.  The materials chosen for the library facing are compatible with the exteriors of other buildings on the quadrangle.

The brick on the historic building is from Willamina, Oregon. In 1907, the Pacific Face Brick Company moved from Newberg, Oregon, and opened the Willamina Clay Products operation. In 1974, the brick plant closed and the buildings were destroyed in 1976. For different bricks, the company used red clay from Newberg,  white clay from Willamina, and buff clay from Buena Vista, Oregon.

The brickwork for the soldier course on the north facade, directly below the cornice, is lighter than the 90 courses of brick that graduate from dark at the bottom to light at the top. Above the belt course, stretchers of brick frame the windows and decorative panels, thus, creating geometric sections of brick in between. The courses laid in this section are randomly placed polychromed brick. Also in this section, lighter header courses are laid every seventh row. The mortar in the joints on all facades and wings is light grey, and the texture of the brick is rough grooves created by the extruded method of making brick.

Decorative ceramic tiles below the cornice level were inset into the brick. The original plan for the building called for the use of terra-cotta, a durable material resistant to corrosion and discoloration and used for a few campus buildings, notably Johnson Hall.  Cast stone was used instead, most likely for economic reasons.

The brickwork for the soldier course on the north facade, directly below the cornice, is lighter than the 90 courses of brick that graduate from dark at the bottom to light at the top. Above the belt course, stretchers of brick frame the windows and decorative panels, thus, creating geometric sections of brick in between. The courses laid in this section are randomly placed polychromed brick. Also in this section, lighter header courses are laid every seventh row. The mortar in the joints on all facades and wings is light grey, and the texture of the brick is rough grooves created by the extruded method of making brick.

Decorative ceramic tiles below the cornice level were inset into the brick. The original plan for the building called for the use of terra-cotta, a durable material resistant to corrosion and discoloration and used for a few campus buildings, notably Johnson Hall.  Cast stone was used instead, most likely for economic reasons.

Parapet:  Classical antefix and anthemion motif pattern. Material: Cast stone.

Cornice: Alternating leaf and tongue motifs with a pair of squirrels and an oak tree nut set after every sixth leaf detail. This same cornice design was used in the Museum of Art building designed in 1929. Directly under the cornice are ceramic tiles inset into a wide band of brick.

Frieze: Consists of small arches with cast heads set into every third arch, and two rosettes or medallions placed in every two arches. The heads, forty-one in all, represent fifteen characters from various fields of human culture and study.

WINDOW DESIGN AND DECORATION

"The first floor windows on the north facade and east and west wings are cased in wood with twelve-over-twelve panes of glass. The top of these windows are in line with the bottom of the belt course banding that wraps around the north facade and wings. There are small windows cased in wood at the second floor of the east and west wings. The seven tall second story cast-bronze recessed windows are designed in a modern pattern of multi-sized panes of glass. One large pane in the center is surrounded by radiating smaller panes of glass. Three of the windows are actually glass panelled doors to the balconies mentioned above. The trim around the second story windows are cast in stone with a modified pattern of oak tree nuts and acanthus leaves." Source: National Register.

BALCONY DESIGN AND DECORATION

"In the center of the north facade and at the second floor windows, there are three cast stone balconies decorated in bas relief panels. The decorative symbols in the center of each balcony are of a lamp, book, and an eye. The symbol of the flame in a hexagonal panel is on the right side of each balcony, and the symbol of a cross in a hexagonal panel is on the left side. The balconies are functional and can be accessed from the Oregon Collection room on the second floor." Source: National Register.

PANELS WITH INSCRIPTIONS

Written in Latin, the inscription panels as they appear on the building from left to right are: Ars, Literae, Natura, Philosophia, Societas, Historia, and Religio. The inscription panels are arranged to be placed directly below the head of the same study; for example, Michelangelo's head is above Ars and Christ's head is above Religio.

Above the two front entrances are cast stone inscription panels with geometric border designs. The east panel reads, "Ye shall know the truth," and the west panel reads, "and the truth shall make you free" stated by Jesus, reported in John 8:32 in the King James Bible.

The panels appear on the 1934 elevation drawings for the building delineated by H. Abbott Lawrence.

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Facade detail, top to bottom: parapet with antefix and anthemion motif pattern, cornice with squirrels with tiles underneath, frieze with heads and rosettes. Beneath this decoration are windows, each with a balcony and topped by a plaque representing an academic discipline.

Library Balcony Detail

The brickwork of the facade features great variety in pattern and color.

Knight Library exterior. Balcony detail.

Balcony under construction.  Print by Gordon W. Gilkey.

Plaque, Library Facade.

 

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SOURCES

Douglass, Matthew Hale. The University of Oregon Library Building. 1937.

Emerson, Kim, "University of Oregon Library and Memorial Quadrangle," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, August 15, 1989.

"The Library," Ellis Lawrence Building Survey. v.2 (Eugene). Compiled by the Historic Preservation Program, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon ; project directors, Michael Shellenbarger, Kimberly Lakin. [Salem, Or.] : State Historic Preservation Office, [1989].

"Willamina Brick Factory, Willamina, Oregon." State of Oregon Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings, State Historic Preservation Office, 1976.

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