The Ornate Rose Main Reading Room (New York Public Library)
People generally don’t think of libraries and leap to concepts such as “elegance” and “beauty”. It is rather shameful given how many libraries have had great care paid to their aesthetics over the years. The fact that houses of learning like libraries have received a reputation for being overall boring is distasteful as many of them still deserve their reputation. One of the few places that have not lost this reputation is the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. The grandeur is apparent from the moment one enters until one exits without ever compromising its function. It is a rare treat for both architectural enthusiasts, people who enjoy beautiful scenery, and anyone who enjoys a good library. The space has long held a reputation as an iconic public space in New York thanks to its appearance and accessibility. It is little wonder that it has drawn so much attention over the years.
A big part of what catches the eyes so much about the Rose Main Reading Room has everything to do with the Beaux-Arts architectural movement that created it. This style is often considered broadly neoclassical, but with a built up refinement of expression. This tended to create sweeping and beautiful buildings that are as many works of art as they are buildings. Many of the people utilizing the style in the United States tended to hearken back to distinctly Greek inspirations to help provide the look that they desired. Beaux-Arts is characterized by heavy embellishments of the architecture with integrated sculptures playing heavily into the overall appearance of such buildings. This is readily apparent in the Rose Reading Room through the sculpted rosettes on the ceiling itself provide a distinctive beauty and highlight to the rest of the ceiling. They are only one of the many grand elements of the ceiling that create a distinct majesty and presence within the building and for the building itself.
A Taste of History
Another part of the appeal, beyond the ornate architecture, is that the library has likewise tried to maintain much of the given aesthetics outside of the building itself too. The chairs, desks, and fixtures all seem to hearken back to an earlier time when this kind of beauty and acceptance of learning being the center of a great culture. Rich, wooden shelves are matched to the gleaming brass of lights and other fixtures that all create a sense of aesthetic wholeness that is hard to capture without a place with such a sense of identity. It makes for an interesting place to visit when our culture as a whole continually presses towards a more and more modern aesthetic. There are some concessions to time in the Rose Reading Room where you can see update have happened to keep things moving smoothly. The library does do its best to disrupt as little of the historic aesthetic as possible though. The end result speaks for itself.
All of that beauty takes maintenance and so does updating the room. The Rose Reading Room was actually closed for two years starting in 2014 after the ceiling began to show signs of wear. A rosette falling and smashing into the floor below was what ultimately showed the caretakers that the room needed to be cared for or else it would become a hazard to the people using it. The ceiling was only the first target for the restoration, but a crucial part of it as each decorative element needed to be checked individually to see if it needed repairs. While the sculpted decorative elements were central to the renovation, experts retouched, repaired, and overall restored the rest of the ceiling and room as well with the goal of keeping everything looking as good as it could. The end result was unveiled again towards the end of 2016 when it became clear the reading room had been properly tended to and its beauty was once again available to everyone and, more importantly, safe to view again.
The Rose Main Reading Room has a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers and book lovers. All the grandeur serves to be inspiring at the same time that it allows a curious melding of various people. Anyone could be using the room ranging from the powerful to the average person. Amid the beauty, there is a curious equality of people coming together to learn and search for the information they desire. It has been that way for over a century and is expected to continue forward in the same way for another century at the very least. Time will tell on that point, but we can all at least appreciate its beauty the next time we’re each in New York.