Gluck Scholars Library in a forest

New York normally conjures images of modern materials and defensible spaces, but in urban contexts – skyscrapers in the city, not retreat cubes in the forested mountains found upstate. Designed by regional architect Peter Gluck, the heavy base and open-on-all-sides windows above are reminiscent of the sold-and-void relationship of classic watchtowers found in the wilderness, but made of rigorous steel and concrete rather than rough timber.

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Gluck Scholars Library

Nature is fully accessible through a cascading glazing system – sliding windows sit one in front of the next so that entire corners can be easily opened to the exterior.

Bookcases, couches, desks and other surfaces are all matched in level to the lower edge of the windows, preventing any visual obstructions to the outside. The use of unobtrusive white and gray likewise focus the eye back outside while wooden stairs and floors add a little life underfoot.

Gluck Scholars Library glass reading room

No glazing can be found on the first level, but thin and round metal columns on the second story make for full 360-degree views where it matters most. This lofted level lets an occupant enjoy the outside, but also see anyone on approach and feel safe via a level of removal from the forest floor (providing physical protection against the elements as well as psychological distance). In a sense, it works on both the conventional and architectural (or: natural and urban) definitions of defensible space – addressing wildfire dangers and fear of predators, human or otherwise.

Gluck Scholars Library side view

“A pure and elegant Platonic cube here matches the unity of the building’s purpose and form, in both programmatic and metaphorical terms. The first floor is completely closed and contains stacks for a library of books. The second floor, which is entirely open, is a scholar’s working study.  The study sits on the books below much like scholarship rests on the body of work that precedes it.”

Gluck Scholars Library plan

“The structure expresses this dual character, with the floating roof cantilevered off the second floor to highlight the distinction between the solid and the void.  The windows (standard-issue sliding doors) open on all four sides, stacking in opposite corners, to create the feeling of an aerie in the woods. The changing seasons provide the context, with the study “walls” green in the summer, orange in the fall, and white in the winter.  An economy of means in cost, materials, and structure result in simplicity and directness with no elaboration.  The study is a serene and solitary haven for quiet work that is at the same time immersed in the natural world around it.”