Before coming to SIPA, when I thought of the Ivy League I would immediately picture immense, neoclassical and gothic style buildings, foreboding structures made to resemble the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge. This style has always been appealing to me; something about the brick buildings and carved names of famous alumni and scholars is particularly conducive to studying, reminding you of how little you know and how much farther you have to go.
When you first step foot on campus, your eyes are immediately drawn to Butler and Low Libraries that sit on the edges of main campus like two enormous bookends. They’re pretty to look at it and they entirely live up to one’s expectations about what an Ivy library is supposed to be. However, if you take the steps up by Low and round the corner, you’ll pass by a hundred year old chapel, its humble Byzantine stylings immediately drawing you in towards the altar. A little ways more down the footpath and you’ll pass by an unassuming brick building that happens to be Avery Library, the largest architectural library in the world.
Whenever I am doing readings or looking for inspiration, I’ll try and find a seat at Avery. It’s often hard as there are a limited number of seats and the library enforces a strict no coffee or tea rule that sometimes discourages me from going. But every time I do happen to find a space I am reminded of why I love studying there. First of all, the library is essentially one large narrow hall. Long tables line the middle of the hall, while the walls are full of books up to two stories high. Great big windows along the entire building provide plenty of natural light and a view of the campus. For this reason, Avery strikes a perfect balance in terms of ambiance; it’s warm and inviting, without the stuffy feeling that other old libraries tend to have.
The winter only accentuates all of Avery’s best features, as the large windows give you a view of the snow outside, while the wood interior makes you feel like you’re at home in your study. During the cold season, I’ll often step outside and walk around the corner to the chapel, just to unwind and destress for a few moments. Then I’ll walk back, feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into my work.
On top of all of its natural charm, the basement of the library also has a nice cafe that offers food and a full range of beverages. The seating is cafeteria style and it is almost always buzzing with people. The library also hosts one of the world’s leading architectural art collections, with over two million drawings, sketches, photographs, and other historical artifacts related to the field of design and architecture. Sometimes I’ll catch an event at the library as well, since it regularly hosts visiting exhibitions and relevant speaker series events.
Whether you decide to go to Avery to study or just to grab coffee, it is always a welcome respite from the busyness of everyday life. If you decide to visit Columbia, take an opportunity to step inside and envision yourself here!
Note from Admissions: SIPA’s expert faculty and theory-meets-practice curriculum is part of what sets our programs apart. Register for Spring 2019 SIPA class visits here and experience it for yourself.