The Troy-Miami County Public Library is a modern masterpiece that has been recognized for its design nationally as well as within the state of Ohio. The architects involved in the design of the building were nationally recognized as master practitioners of their craft. The building needs to be cherished and protected. While the building is not yet 50 years old, the Troy Historical Society and the library’s board of trustees should apply for the building’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places immediately. There are cases where buildings less than 50 years old are being accepted to the National Register.
This year marks an important anniversary for the library. In 1978, the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association bestowed an Award of Merit to the building. The award recognized the library as being one of the best designed libraries in the United States. The following year, the building would be given an Award of Excellence in Masonry by the Ohio Masonry Council and the Architect’s Society of Ohio.
The new library was designed by Levin Porter Smith of Dayton. Richard Levin, who founded his firm in 1960, was bestowed membership into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1977. Mr. Levin would also be given the AIA Gold Medal Award in 1988, which is the highest honor that can be given to any member of the profession. Donald Porter would join the firm in 1961 and become a community leader volunteering his time and expertise to numerous non-profit organizations. Dale D. Smith, the youngest of the partners, would be awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1983. Loeb Fellows are accomplished practitioners from the United States and around the world who are influential in shaping the built and natural environment.
Prior to the construction of the current library, the library was housed in the Hayner Mansion. It goes without saying that the design of Mrs. Hayner’s home was not intended for the activity of a public library, let alone the weight of all of those books. I’m sure the 1914 mansion gave a mighty groan of relief when 80 years of collected materials were moved out of the building and into the new Modernist building located one block west.
The new library building is located on the former site of Edwards School. According to Thomas Wheeler, that entire city block was reserved for use of a public school when that area of Troy was platted. It would be interesting to know if the property deed states any such covenant. Regardless, the educational provenance of the property continues to this day with the Library in its current location.
The new library design with its tall central space and exposed wood trusses recalls the reading rooms found in H.H. Richardson’s libraries of New England. The stacks located directly off the two story volume in sheltered alcoves are also reminiscent of earlier library designs. The building’s Platonic forms are reflective of the mid-century work of Modernist Louis Kahn.
Many of us remember the solar panels that were part of the original building design, which is reflected in the form of the building’s Main Street facade. What many people do not know is that the solar collectors were damaged when a library employee turned the system off over the holidays allowing it to freeze and self destruct. With all of the advances in renewable energy, it may be time to install a new solar array on the building.
The library building is easily one of the most important architectural gems of the community rivaled only by the Old Courthouse and the Hayner Mansion. The recent modifications to the front entrance and removal of important skylights shows a lack of understanding of the building’s design and importance. The new front entrance with its residential lap siding is regrettable. The simple use of spandrel glass would have maintained the original aesthetic of the building. Any more modifications to the building should be accomplished in a manner in keeping with the original design.
Landmark buildings are not recognized based on their age, but rather the quality of their design. If too much of the building is altered, it will not be able to be listed on the National Register. This was the case with Trinity Episcopal Church when it was submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office in 1975. Trinity was rejected due to the missing belfry, improper brick repair, and damaged front facade. It behooves us to begin to consider saving and preserving landmarks of our recent past before its too late.
Patrick Hansford is a graduate of Troy High School and holds a Master of Architecture from Miami University. He worked as a designer for Levin Porter Associates and Dale D. Smith Associates early in his career.