Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU’s Renaissance Room turns a page

The Renaissance Room in DU’s Mary Reed Building has been going through a renaissance of its own, but it’s not especially easy to tell.

The craftsmanship is so precise and the improvements so cleverly disguised that when you walk in, you may have a funny feeling it’s 1932 again and you’re back in DU’s library.

Not even Mary Reed’s ghost has shown she’s noticed or upset, points out Bill Campbell, architectural technician of the University Architect’s Office.

“I hope she’s pleased with what I’ve done to her space,” Campbell says. “Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll hear from her.”

So far, not a hint of a haunting, he adds, which leaves Campbell the satisfaction of believing that the restoration has changed much but seems to have changed little.

Like the coffered ceiling in the center section, which looks like a network of wood beams but is actually painted plaster. Or the flooring, which looks like 77-year-old imported tile but is actually easy-to-clean rubber. Or the plaster walls that appear painted but contain pigment so there is no need for paint.

“It looks beautiful,” gushes a startled Dan Jacobs, director of DU’s Myhren Gallery, who dropped by recently to plan his part of the project. “The great part is it doesn’t look new. It looks old and cared for.”

Jacob’s comment is music to Campbell’s ears. “We’ve had master craftsmen working on this, people who really care about the little details,” he says proudly.

He walks over to a wall panel of fine-grain wood and runs his hand along its smooth, oiled surface.

“This is rift-sawn white oak,” he says with pride, losing his listener in an explanation of plain sawn, quarter sawn and rift sawn lumber. What it adds up to is using detail to restore “the elegance of the original building, [to have] the feeling of being back in time a little bit.”

Jacobs appears convinced. His job is to professionally hang the paintings that formerly graced the second-floor reading room and to try to persuade whoever gets to decide about art that the room could use a third painting, too. Maybe a six-foot restored statue of Venus in addition.

Campbell is unwilling to bet on the outcome. The boss doesn’t want the room cluttered, he says, but there’s a lot of wall space. Maybe Jacobs’ suggestions will launch an artistic infusion.

All Campbell knows for sure is that the Mary Reed Building used to have large doors separating the second floor into two rooms, Renaissance North and South. Now it’s one great, sweeping hall for conferences, receptions and media events but with better heat, light, seating, ambiance, sound, safety and panache than ever before.

“If you wanted an event with a dinner on one end, a buffet set-up in the center, and a small dance in here, you could make that happen,” he points out. “If you wanted to have a cocktail party that started here then moved onto a buffet, it also could happen.”

All in a thermostat-controlled environment with gas logs in limestone fireplaces at each end and a perimeter gold glow from dimmer lights recessed into the wooden bookshelves along the walls.

“The chancellor wanted to create a long view from room to room,” Campbell says approvingly. “That’s the way it was originally when it was the American Renaissance Reading Room. It was all one space. This is returning it back to what it was.”

Plus adding window shades with reflective backing, rewired original chandeliers with modern fluorescent lights that are energy efficient, new wiring, a fire detection system, storage or cloak closets, and comfortable chairs.

“It’ll feel very much like an English manor house at some point,” Campbell says. Once he gets the room “tuned,” that is.

The first meeting in the new Renaissance Room was April 8. That gave Campbell’s discerning ear a chance to “hear the meetings, hear the acoustics and try to tune the space. Get some idea of what we need to add.” Like acoustic backing behind the paintings, which will help absorb sound.

Campbell claps his hands; the sound cracks like a gunshot. Adjustments will come, he says with the assurance of an artist.

“All in all,” he smiles broadly, “it’s a great space.”

Comments are closed.