The Long Room

"My prior impression of library hallways is that they are typically flooded with sterile white light. The Long Room instead relies quite heavily on natural light, which casts itself more carefully across the 65-meter-long hall."
James Key

At a loss for words while standing beneath the deep-wooden vaulted ceiling
of the Trinity College Long Room, my attention was drawn to this quote – which often floats across my timeline but never related quite as well until this moment last Friday:

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
Greek Proverb

It’s an image that will invariably cross your gaze when researching Dublin’s most famous landmarks – the polished finish of the wooden hallway, symmetrically flanked by the double-story bookshelves, the white marble busts of eminent scholars, long since passed. These images will not do justice to the beauty you will encounter in person and nor should they, as two-dimensional compressions of a much larger space.

The scarcity of light is, I think, deserving of much credit to this effect. My prior impression of library hallways is that they are typically flooded with sterile white light. The Long Room instead relies quite heavily on natural light, which casts itself more carefully across the 65-meter-long hall.

Where artificial light relies on brute force that so often blunts or washes over the curvatures of a bookshelf, the light of the Long Room gently dances across, compelling our eye to follow as it glances off the glistening white marble of a scholarly sculpture up the cast-iron staircases that wind up into the deepest reaches of the library.

It’s hard to know whether this detail is an artefact of the library’s age or whether it was intended. Irrespective of this, one is left with the distinct impression that its many architects recognized, as do its keepers today, that far from simply being an academic space, this is an institution of Irish cultural memory and heritage, deserving of grandeur that each would never quite see in full.

The Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

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