She’s a thing of beauty, don’t you think? Hundreds of thousands of square feet packed with mind-strengthening knowledge, all wrapped in 16 stories of brick and limestone, and capped off with 6,668 pounds of bronze bells. It’s the largest musical instrument in the city of Rochester, and also one of the top 50 research libraries in North America.
Proudly watching over the Eastman Quad , Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester seems to call out, “Come to me. Come to me and get your education on.” Personally, I’ve always wondered what the views are like from the top of that bell tower. What do you say we all climb up inside there and race to the top? Let’s go…
While we make our way up the quad toward the building, here’s some background info. The library was named after Rush Rhees, university president from 1900 to 1935, during which time the school evolved from a small college to a multifaceted research university. From the library’s web site:
The original library was designed in the 1920’s by Gordon & Kaelber Architects. The frieze along the roof line contains inscriptions of names of famous thinkers such as Plato, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant and others.
It’s hard to miss the giant stone owls perched around the tower and above the cornice. Owl symbols are a tradition for many libraries because of their longstanding association with wisdom. Sources on myth and magic explain that birds which could “see” in the dark were thought to have mysterious powers, later identified with prophecy, “nocturnal sciences,” and, in a broader sense, wisdom. The owls are also a recurring design motif found in other architectural details, like the handles of the main lobby doors. Incidentally, the lobby was named after Roger B. Friedlander who contributed to the library’s renovation in 2000 (the 150th anniversary of the University).
Every October, Rush Rhees Library holds a Halloween Scare Fair where the library is transformed into a bit of a fright-fest. Students can take the infamous “stack stalk” – a scavenger hunt through the library’s massive collection that could earn you candy, or a spooky tour of the building’s tower.
Rush Rhees Library tower is 186 feet high (or about 16 stories). Luckily for us, there’s an elevator. Yes, the elevator doors are painted the official UofR Blue (that’s Pantone 541, or #00467f for you web designers). Ok, take a deep breath and step inside…
When the door and gate close behind you, you may feel a bit of claustrophobia come over you. But it’s okay. This is also one of the happiest elevators you’ll ever see. Is it just me, or is it smiling at me?
It’s a bit surprising to find the inside of the rotunda, though quite large, is completely devoid of any unnecessary design embellishments. It sort of reminds me of the inside of a missile silo. Although it’s still an impressive space – especially looking down into the middle of it. Here is where you can clearly see the building’s steel frame.
Now we make our way from the top of the staircase, across a narrow catwalk, and into what looks like a toilet paper tube with a spiral staircase inside. On either side of the catwalk is about a 4-story drop into the rotunda. I decide to take my chances with the toilet paper roll staircase.
After a short ladder climb up through another narrow shaft, we’ve punched through to the heavens above. The view of the perfectly symmetrical Eastman Quad—with the Interfaith Chapel at the far end and the frozen Genesee River behind it—is immediately striking. Breathtaking!
[ You can click on any of these images for a larger view. Clicking on this panorama will open the photo in your browser window. You may have to click on it again to zoom in all the way. ]
A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a bell tower – like this one. The massive instrument can literally be played like an organ, by striking keys called batons, and by stepping down on pedals.
This one, called the Hopeman Carillon, replaced the original bell chime in 1973 and is the largest musical instrument in the city. It’s one of only seven carillons in New York State, and with 50 bells it’s also one of the largest in the country. The bells were imported from Holland, cast of bronze, and weigh a combined 6,668 pounds. By comparison the world’s largest carillon in Bloomfield, Michigan has 77 bells.
The original Hopeman Memorial Chime of 17 bells was given to the University in 1930 by the daughter and two sons of Arendt Willem Hopeman in memory of their father. Mr. Hopeman’s firm of A.W. Hopeman and Sons had been general contractors for the new River Campus.
The bells chime every quarter hour, and let me tell you, they are absolutely deafening from this vantage point. If you’re ever up here while they’re going off you’ll be too busy covering your ears to actually hear them properly.
Weekly recitals are given by students and guests, and an annual recital series is held during the summer. But you can listen to Jeff Le (class of 2007) playing the Harry Potter theme right here…
Ah, that was fun!
Tags: A.W. Hopeman and Sons, architecture, Arendt Willem Hopeman, Bloomfield, carillon, Fauver Stadium, Gordon & Kaelber Architects, Halloween Scare Fair, Harry Potter, Hopeman Carillon, Hopeman Memorial Chime, Immanuel Kant, Jeff Le, Michigan, Plato, René Descartes, Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center, Rochester, rochester images, Rochester NY, Rochester panorama, rochester photos, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, UofR, urban exploration
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