The Vassar College Art Library is a rare example of a complete modernist interior from the pre-World War II period in the United States. Built in 1937, the interior was designed by John McAndrew, an architect as well as educator, who taught architectural history and drafting in the Vassar College Department of Art from 1931 to 1937.
The clarity, openness, and textured warmth of the space is in keeping with the American or what McAndrew termed a "naturalized" version of the machine aesthetic, which he would go on to promote in his role as Curator of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art between 1937 and 1942. The design also shares elements of the streamline style of Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes. McAndrew's Art Department colleagues referred to this dynamic and forward-looking space as the expression of a new functionalism in architecture.
As a learning environment it was exactly that, an elegantly-crafted machine in which every surface, volume, and design element was shaped and illuminated for the efficient appropriation of a knowledge of the history of art through group and individual study. McAndrew's space has now been carefully renovated to recover its original function through a restoration of the original interior on designs by another architect/educator, the late Paul Spencer Byard, and his partner Charles A. Platt, of the New York-based firm of Platt Byard Dovell White. To view a slideshow of the original space as it appeared in 1937, follow this link.