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The Design

This very early sketch of Central Library shows that the strongest elements of the design took shape for Gilbert right away. St. Louisans can recognize this building immediately.

Gilbert followed a very detailed architectural program laid out in the architectural competition for Central Library. Costs and changed program elements resulted in some alterations, but overall his design remained consistent throughout.

Gilbert’s original competition drawing shows what changed as his design moved forward. Originally, a ramped auditorium - a feature added in the recent renovation, though in a very different location - occupied the second story of what would become the Great Hall.

The competition drawings show the Great Hall as a smaller and less elaborate space. During the design process, either at the behest of the architect or client, it grew into a dominating feature. The arrangement here, showing the four great public rooms of the main floor, bisected by the Foyer, and the stack tower making the north side of the rectangle.

The original working blueprints for Central Library were kept for eighty years in the Library’s maintenance department. Mounted on linen, many of the drawings are six feet wide, such as this section showing the complex levels and relationship of the great public rooms and service areas such as the stacks. These blueprints were routinely sent out to contractors and service companies over the years when work was done on Central.

The blueprints, and more strikingly a stunning series of renderings showing the façade and the main rooms, are works of art in themselves.

During research for the recent renovation work, it was discovered that some of the original drawings, particularly the steel and foundation details, were missing. These missing drawings were discovered in the collections of the New-York Historical Society, where they had been held since Gilbert’s New York offices were closed in the 1930s. The St. Louis Public Library arranged to conserve and digitize these blueprints, which were then used by the architects and engineers to help plan the recent renovation – an enormous aid and cost savings.

Construction A Century Ago