If you are in the Salem area, consider driving around 18 miles northeast to Mt. Angel. Here, at the summit of Mount Angel itself, you will find Mount Angel Abbey, which is home to the Mount Angel Library.
The abbey features an eclectic blend of architectural styles, with the main church itself having a Romanesque look. Still, the modern lines of the library stand out from the other structures on the site.
In this post, we are going to show you around the Mount Angel Library so you can appreciate its exceptional design for yourself. But first, let’s give a little background.
A Brief History of the Mount Angel Library
The history of the abbey itself dates back to 1882. While the Swiss Benedictine monks who established it originally had quite a few books, a 1926 fire destroyed the vast majority. Still, the tomes they were able to save gave them a core of treasured works to build a new collection around in the decades that followed.
It was Fr. Barnabas Reasoner, O.S.B. who took over as the abbey’s library director in 1952. He was the one who asked Finnish architect Alvar Aalto to consider coming up with the design for the Mount Angel Library. Aalto, who had already enjoyed designing other libraries, enthusiastically accepted the commission. In fact, he charged only a nominal fee, taking on the project largely out of passion.
A Light-Filled, Ascendant Design
The Mount Angel Library is positioned on a slope, giving library patrons excellent views from the back windows. Indeed, what you are looking at here is actually the rear of the building. It looks much smaller from the front. In fact, approaching from the street, you might easily mistake it for a single-story structure.
The most stunning feature of the Mount Angel Library is no doubt the central stairs leading up to the circular desk. The use of concentric circles in the design as well as the recessed skylights draw the visitor inward and upward—an apt visual metaphor for the experience of spiritual development and transcendence.
No matter where you choose to sit and study in the library, you will receive ample natural light from above. But in case you are there in the evening or a dark, cloudy Oregon day, you can switch on one of the sleek modern desk lamps. While they serve a practical function, they also lend an elegant decorative touch to this central study area.
The chairs, the stools, the light fixtures, the library stacks, and even the handles of the doors are all designs by Alvar Aalto. So, if you are visiting, take time to appreciate the furnishings and appliances as well. They, too, are striking works of Mid Century Modern art. Because Aalto brought his attention to every fine detail in the library’s interior, the ambiance is entirely consistent and immersive.
This, too, is fitting in an abbey library. Spiritual environments should make us feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that order and structure are built into our lives. The design of the Mount Angel Library and its furnishings convey that sense of harmonious unity.
If you enjoyed exploring the Mount Angel Library, you may be interested in the Joel M. Pritchard Building, another Pacific Northwest mid century library. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to check out other Mid Century Modern structures in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.