A preservation story with a happy ending.
When the Haydon Burns Library opened in November 1965, it was a library building unlike any other in Jacksonville's history. A joyful expression of color, concrete, and geometry, the library almost appears to move, the rhythm of its undulating fins echoing the waves of the nearby Atlantic. Designed by prolific Jacksonville, Florida, architect Taylor Hardwick, who studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and was influenced by Eero Saarinen, the Haydon Burns Library was always meant to be an ultramodern showpiece- a monument awash in color, texture, and books. With strong angles, curvy lines, and transparent walls, the Jacksonville library is modernism at its most fun, a playful take on a public mission.
Named after former Jacksonville mayor and Florida governor, Haydon Burns, the Hardwick-designed library is full of optimism and energy, and it's hard not to like its mix of bold forms and colorful ornament. The building's most notable features- the 88 sculpted concrete fins and vivid mosaic panels- add texture and depth to what is really, just a simple three-story box. On the facade, large glass windows, metal screens, and concrete sunshades span the intervals between the vertical fins in a careful balance of transparency, shade, and shadow. Inside, Hardwick's whimsical approach to color, pattern, and light continues to invigorate- a candy-colored mosaic mural by local artist Ann Williams wraps the elevator tower, while a quirky lecture hall originally provided the perfect backdrop for puppet shows. In the library's open reading room, two-story glass walls fill the space with bright, warm light and offer a direct connection to the public street. Standing in stark contrast to the restrained neoclassical libraries of an earlier era, the Haydon Burns Library is a feast for the eyes, a fearless modernist composition meant for the future.
In 2005, the Haydon Burns Library, by that time considered small and outmoded, closed its doors as the City of Jacksonville built a larger library facility just a few blocks away (this one by Robert A.M. Stern). Following a failed attempt at redevelopment in 2007, the 1960s library sat empty and neglected for several years with many questioning whether Hardwick's modernist jewel box should be saved at all. Lucky for us, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund purchased the building and began an extensive $25 million renovation project (by KBJ Architects) that quite incredibly, managed to preserve most of the library's original integrity (including those stunning mosaics). After restoring the local landmark back to its original glory, the Jessie Ball duPont Center opened its doors in 2015 and now houses 12 local nonprofit organizations.
A happy ending, indeed.
You can read more about the Jessie Ball duPont Center here.
Image at top:
Courtesy of Jacksonville Public Library Digital Collections.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.