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Rare Book Reading Room

Posted On March 15, 2013 | 09:11 am | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (March 2013)


Frederic Rhinelander King, East Elevation, Proposed Library Addition. Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.AD.MW.GL.001).

2013 marks the fiftieth anniversaries of the Rare Book Reading Room and the Pre-Columbian Collection pavilion at Dumbarton Oaks. These additions – with their remarkable architectural contrasts – were constructed by Dumbarton Oaks under the patronage of its founders, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. The Dumbarton Oaks Archives has considerable holdings – including architectural drawings, plans, a model, and correspondence – relating to the design and construction of these two buildings between 1959 and 1963. As with all of the architecture that the Blisses commissioned at Dumbarton Oaks, the Blisses were closely involved with the architects of these additions and their plans. For example, the architect of the Rare Book Reading Room, Frederic Rhinelander King, sent the eighty-year-old Mildred Bliss colored pencil drawings on August 4, 1960, to help her envision his design concepts for the new building, which was to house her collection of some six thousand volumes on garden design. These drawings included one of the east elevation (seen above). King wrote to her:

Dear Mildred, since my visit last week I have been at work on the enclosed sketches which I am sending you for your criticism and comment. No. 1 is a study of the end of the Library (East Elevation). I feel quite strongly that the French doors should remain in the center as I think you should go out of the room on the main axis and not at the sides.

This and other drawings and photographs from the Archives are presently on view in the exhibition Architectural Contrasts in the Orientation and Bliss Galleries until January 5, 2014.


Frederic Rhinelander King, South Elevation. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.AD.MW.GL.002
Frederic Rhinelander King, South Elevation, Proposed Library Addition. Archives, AR.AD.MW.GL.002, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Frederic Rhinelander King, Study for Bookcase Design. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.AD.MW.GL.003
Frederic Rhinelander King, Study for Bookcase. Archives, AR.AD.MW.GL.003, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.