By Stephen Enniss
Visitors to the Ransom Center cannot help but be struck by the beauty of our public spaces. The etched glass windows are popular with all and offer a glimpse to passersby of the extraordinary collections that await them. The two rows of busts greeting visitors in the lobby are visually striking, while the exhibition galleries offer a wonderful variety of ever-changing collection material. These spaces are the result of a highly successful renovation completed in 2003 which signaled architecturally a new commitment to engage the broadest possible public.
Unknown to many visitors, that renovation did not reach above the second floor. Visitors to the Ransom Center's upper floors find themselves stepping back in time. A stepped-floor lecture room, now occupied by exhibition services staff, is a reminder of the room's original use as a classroom. Conservators perform treatments in labs that were state-of-the-art decades ago, and the Ransom Center's digitization lab occupies an improvised space designed before the personal computer. As the Ransom Center's collections have grown, the collections themselves have expanded into former office spaces, spaces conditioned for human occupancy rather than for maintaining an optimum preservation environment.
It is necessary that we reaffirm the Ransom Center's commitment to collection care.
We must plan for the Ransom Center's future growth by completing the unfinished renovation and reimagining these spaces for the work we perform today. This renovation also offers us an opportunity to create a preservation environment that we know will extend the life of the University's most valuable cultural artifacts.
Following a competitive selection process, the Ransom Center and the University's Office of Campus Planning have chosen a firm to develop a master plan which will provide architectural solutions to the most vital questions facing us. Among the questions to be answered: how rapidly are the Ransom Center's collections growing and how will we accommodate that growth in the coming years? How many years of life would a properly regulated preservation environment add to the Center's most threatened collection materials? And, how might purpose-built spaces better advance our work?
My own hope for this planning activity is that it helps us envision functional and beautiful spaces commensurate with the world renowned collections we hold.