architect and sculptor maya lin has completed the redesign and renovation of a college library in northampton, massachusetts. described as the intellectual heart of the smith college campus, the new ‘neilson library’ incorporates the site’s existing 1909 façade and re-imagines the complex as ‘an intellectual commons’. construction work began in october 2017, with the library scheduled to open on march 29, 2021. a new video offering a first look at the completed library can be seen at the top of this page.



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the project seeks to reconnect the college’s science quadrangle with the historic center of the smith college campus, restoring integrity to frederick law olmsted’s 1893 campus masterplan. in addition to the complete renovation of the existing structure, which involved the removal of clumsy additions and the gutting of the interior, maya lin designed two new structures to flank the historical building. these new wings, dubbed ‘jewel boxes’, contain a range of new programming and connect directly to the existing structure. the project seeks to maximize natural light with an energy-efficient design that reduces the need for artificial illumination.

maya lin neilson library
screenshot from video illustrating the central hall on the first floor



the interior of the existing building is articulated around a ‘central core’ that is illuminated from above thanks to a round, centrally positioned skylight. capturing and magnifying natural light, this oculus helps illuminate each story of the building. as with all parts of the redesign, an emphasis has been placed on flexible interior spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes. on the first floor, the central hall is flanked by reading rooms, classrooms, and other learning areas. the building culminates in the skyline reading room, which borders a new roof terrace offering sweeping views across the campus.

maya lin neilson library
screenshot showing the atrium within the project’s north wing



arranged around a central atrium, the new north wing contains a digital media hub at ground level, which borders study spaces and a sunken courtyard. on the first floor, a café offers views of both the atrium and the courtyard through floor-to-ceiling glazing. the second and third floors contain contemplative study areas, populated with desks and comfortable areas of seating for both individual and group work. meanwhile, the south wing brings together the school’s special collections — allowing one-stop access to these important, rich materials and the staff who study and care for them. a grand reading room on the third floor presents sweeping views across the campus.



project info:


name: new neilson library at smith college
location: northampton, massachusetts
design: maya lin
client: smith college
status: complete, set to open on march 29, 2021