Athenaeum 2050 was designed in response to a competition called "Looking Forward: Re-imagining the Athenaeum of Philadelphia" that invited architects and designers to develop architectural proposals for the Athenaeum library in the year 2050.
Here's the design brief that was provided to participants:
"Imagine: After three years of careful dismantling, moving, painstakingly re-assembling and most importantly, restoring, John Notman’s historic Athenæum building has finally arrived at its new location in Fairmount Park, where it will serve as the headquarters of the newly formed Philadelphia chapter of the Friends of Brownstone (PhilaFOB). Flush with government funding from lottery and fracking revenue, PhilaFOB made the Athenæum Board of Directors an offer it couldn’t refuse.
So now, for the first time since 1845, the lot at 6th & St. James Streets is vacant, and the Athenæum, still a vital independent lending and research library, with growing architectural and design collections, must re-imagine itself without its historic building. Given its location and its corporate purposes, what might a mid-21st century Athenæum look like?
The entrant’s design for 2050 should address the three purposes and functions created as outlined by our 19th century predecessors:
To “disseminate useful knowledge”
Knowing the services offered by the Athenæum today, how can the newly designed building further enhance the user experience and better engage the Athenæum’s constituents?
To be “the pride and ornament of Philadelphia”
In the 19th century, “the pride and ornament of Philadelphia” referred to the physical appearance of the building and “its accumulated treasures.” What qualities would make the Athenæum the pride and ornament of Philadelphia in 2050?
To be “the Architectural Library of Philadelphia”
Between 1973 and 2014 the Athenæum assembled one of the world’s most important collections of analog documentation of the built environment. This time period exactly coincides with the architectural profession’s transition from paper-based design to digital design.
Looking Forward entrants should strongly consider how this trend may accelerate or change between now and 2050 and accommodate those changes in their designs, paying particular attention to the challenge of archiving and making accessible both analog and born-digital documents."
The site encompasses the present location of the Athenæum building, including the current sidewalks. The area measures 56’ x 196’. There is 56’ of frontage on Sixth Street facing Washington Square and 56’ of frontage on Randolph Street, facing the St. James Court housing development. There is 196’ facing St. James Street on the north side, and on the south side the site abuts the Dilworth House property.
For the purposes of this competition, the current Athenæum building has been “removed” from the site, therefore it should not be incorporated into the design.
As technological innovations continue to occur at an exponential speed, materiality and connectivity of buildings and furniture to a wireless infrastructure will be inevitable in the future. Although architectural graphics are now being digitally created, the quality and sensorial aspects of physical architectural records will still be sought after by avid researchers; increasing the need for innovative storage, display, and retrieval systems. The Athenaeum will continue to embrace and display its wealth of knowledge, both physical and digital, and create spaces that engages all visitors in the pursuit of knowledge through its design.
With a growing collection of architecturally significant records, the Athenaeum in 2050 will display its book collection to the public on book stacks accessed by a librarian’s assistant. These book stacks will create an ambiance that engages visitors’ visual, auditory, and olfactory senses as they pursue research on gesture based tables with ubiquitous access to all information contained within, and outside of, the Athenaeum. An interactive façade will continually display architectural work being researched within the library’s network. The Athenaeum will be a major hub for architecture and related fields through its display of knowledge and collection of architectural records.