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Photo look at new GVSU Mary Idema Pew Library reveals architectural details

A quick look at the new GVSU Pew Library shows highlights of the design and functional features in the building.

Visitors welcome

"Grand Valley State University Libraries welcomes visitors to tour the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons. Since our mission is to support the teaching and learning of the GVSU community, we ask that you arrange ahead of time to tour the building."

-GVSU website


Please contact Linda Anderson, Assistant to the Dean of University Libraries, to make arrangements at 616-331-2606 or [email protected]."


"The new facility is named after Mary Idema Pew, who was a trailblazer with a lifelong passion for education. Her late husband, Robert C. Pew, one of Grand Valley’s founders and an early Board of Trustees member, generously provided the lead gift that was the catalyst for this $65 million project. Their daughter, Kate Pew Wolters, currently serves on Grand Valley’s Board of Trustees. More than 1,400 donors, including community members, corporations, foundations, alumni, faculty, staff, and students and their families, helped to raise more than $20 million for the library." --GVSU Website

The lower concourse of the new Mary Idema Pew Library at the GVSU Allendale campus.

The lower concourse of the new Mary Idema Pew Library at the GVSU Allendale campus. /Dan Royer

Street lamps in the Pew Library

Street lamps in the Pew Library /Dan Royer

Destinations is one of the key design themes in this new library

Destinations is one of the key design themes in this new library /Dan Royer

Students, faculty and anyone who takes the #50 bus from the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) campus in downtown Grand Rapids to the Allendale campus will be happy to learn that the new Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons is now open to students and the public-- and it's a sight to behold. Residents of Grand Rapids who have been making use of the Steelcase library in the DeVos Center at the downtown Pew Campus should hop on the bus to Allendale and take a look.

Designed by the SHWGroup, an archectural group in Detroit, MI, this learning commons is a fascinating lattice work of spaces, vistas and functional work areas. And, by the way, students downtown have easy access through library transfer to the entire 310-thousand volume collection in Allendale.

"Our architects must have been able to see this building all along," says Dean of Libraries, Lee VanOrsdel. "I thought it was going to be just modestly attractive. Instead it's like a visual puzzle we are living in--angles and peeks and vistas I did not anticipate in the architectural drawings. They listened so closely to what I kept trying to describe but could not--their imagination picked up where mine failed, and wow, was I surprised when the scaffolding came down and we could really see the spaces for the first time. We were so lucky to have them as partners."

The library will "connect students, resources, and technology and change the face of education at GVSU. Learning will continue beyond the classroom, with or without the help of expert consultants," according to the library website.

The design is compelling in surprising ways. Each place one stands, each point of view, prompts a new library to emerge. There are material textures such as vertical walnut panels, river stone, limestone, what appears to be patinaed copper, tinted glass, intricate wood panels and latticed structural columns. What looks like blue cut plastic straws create a honeycomb between glass panels to create subtle privacy in the meeting areas. There's a long gas fireplace in a work study area, an outdoor patio on the roof and an inside-the column outdoor teakwood patio with wooden "clouds" to come.

One of the most interesting touches is a set of six "street lamps" on the lower level.

"We envisioned the lower two floors as concourses- in the atrium level the "main street" runs east-west; on the first floor, north-south. The design is going for a community concept and recognizing "destination" as diverse and energizing. 'Together, alone' was a central concept in our discussions and the whole building tries to balance those two goods," says VanOrsdel.

Energizing indeed. It is going to be some time before faculty and students and Grand Valley discover all there is to learn about this new library.

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