The Mirror of Life: How Great Architecture Inspires Excellence

The architectural inspiration behind the newly-completed Trible Library, featuring the words of President Paul Trible

The Trible Library second-floor reading room features expanded seating for students with six-person desks, couches and individual and group study rooms. Hannah Lindenblad / The Captain’s Log 

By Kristen Ziccarelli

Building speak for themselves, they are reflections of life itself, and frequently they are visions of ideals greater than themselves. The cupola-topped library expansion opened only two weeks ago, but its purpose, vision and legacy has been several years in the making.

Perhaps the most unquestionable feature of the library is that it meets the needs of the academic community. As the second largest building on campus, the completed Trible Library features over 1100 seats, four classrooms, half an acre of open book stacks and much more. With such an incredible amount of new resources, the library shares a functional, yet aesthetic appeal.  

Regarding the initial process, President Paul Trible expressed concern and dedication to the simultaneously lacking and important element of space.

“What brought about the edition was that we needed more space to serve our students,” Trible said. “Then, we enveloped it and we enveloped it in an architecture that was beautiful.”  

Although the glittering floors and statuesque columns might make it tough to believe the library expansion was purposed independently of visual aesthetics, the design and creative process is meant to inspire beyond the bare bones of seats and space.

“We want our students to pursue excellence in all things and being in a beautiful environment will hopefully do that each and every day,” Trible said.

Taking ‘everyday’ in a literal sense, one student that approached Trible on Friday afternoon at 4:15 PM ensured that he was on the way to the library for a few hours of work, even at the end of the first week of classes.

Describing the moment, Trible quoted the student, who said, “this has never happened in my entire life, and it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t created that beautiful library.”

Naturally, Trible gave the student a hug, exclaiming that he made his day.

Although classes aren’t held late on Friday afternoons, the four additional classrooms ensure that the library encompasses more than a space for studying and reading.

We expect the library to be a dynamic teaching and learning space,” Trible said. “I wanted classes to be coming and going throughout the day to ensure that there would be students and faculty coming and going throughout the day.”

The exterior library facade features the Neo-Georgian style. Kristen Ziccarelli / The Captain’s Log

One feature that ties classrooms in academic buildings, offices in the DSU and the library expansion together is the Neo-Georgian architectural style. Even though the appearance of columns and brick throughout campus is unmistakable, key elements of modern architecture and technology are simultaneously present. For example, the David Student Union’s exterior façade features the brick and column design that are characteristic of the Georgian style. However, the entire building is organized around a three-story atrium, evoking different feelings of transparency and modernism.

The characteristic adoption of a traditional, yet modern style reflects Trible’s vision that combines past, present and future ideals.

“I want people to know that they stand in the midst of the history and tradition of Virginia,” Trible said. “We’re mindful of our rich heritage but we’re also very mindful of the rich potential of the future and so I think our architecture points to that.”

Completing the project in only a four-year window required careful collaboration between the school and architectural firm, Glave & Holmes Architecture. Regarding the duration of the process, Trible stated that CNU has a “bias towards action,” coupled with a small staff and less bureaucracy that allows them to move quickly “in terms of working with an architectural firm and working with faculty and staff.”

Such an approach contributes to the unique way the campus has evolved structurally and architecturally under the leadership of Trible.

“There’s only one building on campus that was here when I came,” Trible said. “I knocked all the other one’s down, lovingly I might add.”

While it may seem obvious, the campus design roughly forms a pattern of three concentric circles, with the academic buildings surrounding the great lawn forming the core. The residence halls comprise the second circle, while parking and athletic facilities make up the third portion.

According to Trible, the relatively recent founding of Christopher Newport has been highly advantageous in creating this rational structure that ensures a closeness of every building on campus.  

“That’s our advantage – that we’ve done it all in one time whereas most campuses things are kind of haphazardly done because they’re done at different times,” Trible said.

Trible underscored the importance of an aesthetically unified design that has been devised in recent decades.

“We have this transcending architectural theme,” Trible said. “It’s a unifying theme and we were able to achieve that because we’ve done it all at once and we’ve done it quickly.”

The far-reaching success of CNU in such a short time is reflective in the architecture, which Trible hopes to inspire in his message to students that centers heavily on choices.

“We want them to choose to live lives of meaning consequence and purpose,” Trible said. “That’s why we create these very special places, because … we want students to understand what an extraordinary opportunity it is to be a part of this community, to be empowered and enriched by this opportunity and to go out and set the world on fire.”

Although the completion of the library is a heavy accomplishment and recently celebrated, construction plans for new facilities are already underway.  The plan for a Fine Arts Center will double the size of the Ferguson’s colonnade and fulfill the vision of architect I M Pei, resulting in a physical representation of the visual and fine arts side by side.

While Trible’s accomplishments have spanned decades and many square feet across campus, a certain significant moment occurred during a Tuesday morning in the second week of classes. While showing visitors the newly completed library, Trible described an extraordinary feeling of walking upstairs to the two-story reading room and realizing students at every table, studying in absolute silence.

“It was just an extraordinary sight, it almost brought tears to my eyes, Trible said. “It was an exclamation point to everything I’d ever hoped for, worked for, prayed for over two decades.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *