Ex Libris Albrecht: Knowlton Students Highlight Rare Publications
Housed in Ohio State’s William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, the Herman J. Albrecht Library of Historical Architecture is planning to increase the visibility and accessibility of its valuable collection of works. Through a fund endowed by the family of the respected Ohio architect, the library acquires rare books on architecture each year, with an emphasis on books published prior to 1950. In addition, the library houses Herman J. Albrecht’s (BSArch 1908) personal collection of extremely rare and valuable architectural materials, including his personal architectural sketches, renderings, drawings, and photographs.
To bolster the library’s outreach and engagement, the Albrecht Foundation created and funded two Albrecht Graduate Research Associateships (GRAs), currently held by Knowlton graduate architecture students Tori Lones and Benjamin Arias. Over the past year, Lones and Arias have been researching and cataloging the library of over 300 titles. These initial efforts will allow them to more precisely develop plans to present the library as a whole and to highlight special categories of books.
“We quickly realized that it was necessary to loosely categorize the acquisitions by period or content to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Albrecht Library’s current holdings,” said Lones. “We are finally able to start sharing our findings and will now be inviting students on our journey of uncovering these amazing artifacts.”
Working with faculty from the Knowlton School and Thompson Library’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library, Lones and Arias are finalizing plans to exhibit a selection from the Albrecht Library in the Special Collections Room of the Architecture Library in Knowlton Hall. Students will be able to examine and page through the unique manuscripts and books.
The GRAs are also using social media to bring the content of the library to the public. The Albrecht Library Instagram account displays photos of selected work along with bibliographic content. Plans are also in development to provide a more prominent visual representation of the library’s assets on the Thompson Library and Knowlton School websites.
The primary goal of the Albrecht Foundation is to increase the educational benefit of the library for scholars, architects, and architecture students. Because much of the Albrecht Library is comprised of material that is embedded in Knowlton’s architecture and design curricula, improving access to Knowlton School students is a priority of the GRAs.
“The library is useful for so many different groups of students,” said Arias. “It is a valuable resource for any project a Knowlton student may be working on.”
“There is much for landscape architecture students in our texts on gardens, much for planning students in our texts on palaces and the Vatican, and plenty for graphic designers to explore in all of the text’s spreads and designs,” added Lones.
Adding to its considerable catalog of rare architectural publications from around the world, the Herman J. Albrecht Library of Historical Architecture recently acquired Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Campo Marzio dell’Antica Roma (1762); Bruno Taut’s Die Stadtkrone (1919); and Adolf Behne’s Der moderne Zweckbau (1926).
Other highlights in the library include: Leon Battista Alberti’s De re aedificatoria, the first printed architecture book and the first modern treatise on the subject (1485); Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499); Andrea Palladio’s I Quattro Libri Dell’Architecttura (1581); Gustave Eiffel’s large folio, full-color exposition of the construction of the Eiffel Tower, La Tour de Trois Cents Métres (1890); the Wasmuth portfolio (1910) of drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earliest private and commercial buildings; Emanuel La Roche’s Indische Baukunst (1921-22), a documentation of a wide range of historic buildings in India; Russian Iakov Georgievich Chernikhov’s futuristic designs from the 1920s and 1930s; and works on Japanese architecture in the early twentieth century.
Surrounded by these rare and seminal primary texts, the two GRAs noted their personal favorites. “The book that caught my attention was Louis Sullivan's A System of Architectural Ornament According with a Philosophy of Man's Powers,” said Arias. “This book influenced Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and has beautiful illustrations that show the process of design using the plant germ as an example. There are few extant copies of the original book, and I feel fortunate that the Albrecht Library makes one of them available.”
“The Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza by Francesco Borromnini is among my favorites due to the geometrical feat Borromini must have went through to realize this design,” added Lones. “Borromini is by no means my favorite architect, but the fact that the text is an original and is hundreds of years old somehow brings me closer to the architecture than when I actually experienced the building in person.”
Lones and Arias stress that beyond finding a favorite book, the Albrecht Library is an exceptional resource to engage with work that has shaped architecture scholarship over the centuries. And as much as the library offers unique historical lessons, its value lies as well in its ability to inspire and challenge the current design work of Knowlton students.