A Vision for the Library

From the first published accounts of Cass Gilbert’s design in 1911, Battle Hall has been described as Spanish Renaissance in style, characterized by its broad, red-tile roof, the detailing of the brackets under the eaves, and the use of ornamental wrought iron. This look was seen as fitting for the University of Texas because of the state’s Spanish heritage and perceived similarities of climate. The allusion was superficial. Battle Hall’s underlying pedigree is rooted in the more generalized classicism practiced by Gilbert and his contemporaries at the turn of the twentieth century.

St. Louis Public Library
St. Louis Public Library
Public Library, Boston
Public Library, Boston

Gilbert’s touchstone for the library’s exterior elevations was the Boston Public Library, designed by McKim, Mead & White and built between 1888 and 1895. Gilbert had worked for the firm in the early 1880s, and the building was among the nation’s most celebrated works of public architecture. His definitive scheme for the much smaller Battle Hall adopts the Boston library’s solid base punctuated by rectangular openings and its upper level composed of an arcade of round-arched windows separated by prominent piers and roundels.

Gilbert planned Battle Hall as he was building the St. Louis Public Library. Echoes of it in his design for UT may be seen in the round-arched windows and in the balustrade that was to have enclosed a terrace around the ground floor.

Renderings prepared for the University of Texas Library building

Proposed Library Building rendering with terrace

Study for main elevation.

Proposed Library Building, elevation showing a terrace and people.

Proportions and dimensions of the final design but includes pilasters between the arches and a much simpler treatment of brackets supporting the eaves.

Proposed Library Building rendering

Study for the Library Building, main elevation.

A larger and more ornate building than the final version. Notable features include an elaborate portal, wrought iron balcony railing, pilasters between the arches, and a frieze with metopes, inscriptions and medallions.

Proposed Library Building rendering

Final design, Proposed Library Building, corner view showing people and an automobile.

The rendering in gray tones likely was intended for reproduction in print media. It depicts the library as built except for the balustrade, which was never realized. The Woman’s Building appears in the background.

Main Floor Plan

Main Floor Plan Library Building for The University of Texas

As was customary in most libraries at the time, access to the book stacks was restricted to staff and a limited number of advanced students.

Library patrons turned left at the top of the stairs and entered the Reading Room, which provided access to the Catalogue Room where they would request the books they needed from pages working in the Delivery Space.

The pages would collect the books from the Stack Room and deliver them to the patrons at the counter facing the Reading Room.

The ground floor was intended for various library services, but university administrators occupied it for a number of years after the building’s completion.

Design details

Library ceiling art glass
"Delivery hall," with view into stack room, mezzanine level and skylight with Texas star
University of Texas Library "details for wrot and cast iron balcony over main story windows."
Library staircase details
Old Library construction photos: Special #63, interior view of stairwell
Suggestion for wrot iron grille University of Texas Library Building
Library building, revised drawing of main cornice