Lawrence Group Takes Care to Maintain Original Architect’s Vision While Renovating Library at Iowa’s Simpson College

by Lawrence Group

Lawrence Group was recently tasked with reimagining 60-year-old Dunn Library at Simpson College into a modern, state-of-the-art hub for teacher education and academic support services.

Image of study space in Dunn Library at Simpson College

Dunn Library at Simpson College

Built in 1965, Dunn Library was nearing the end of its serviceable life. For 60 years, Austrian-American Architect Richard Neutra’s modern masterpiece has stood sentinel over the quad at Simpson College, a private Methodist liberal arts college in Indianola, Iowa. Time had taken its toll on the iconic building, which had a leaking roof and obsolete building systems which contributed to a drag on the university’s operating budget.

The renovation would also need to accommodate the library’s extensive collection of historical documents and memorabilia from its founding in 1860, plus a number of archives that include the George Washington Carver Collection and information about the Lane Sisters (four famous 1920s sibling entertainers) from their time at Simpson.

“The real challenge was with the students and faculty who use the building as part of their campus experience. The building no longer supported the functions of a modern campus library. A renovation would require careful consideration to preserve Neutra’s spatial vision, coupled with modern amenities, finishes and furniture,” said Lawrence Group COO Tim Rowbottom.

Lawrence Group partnered with Simpson College and general contractor Story Construction to craft a design that preserved significant pieces of Neutra’s design, plus modernized the building’s mechanical systems. Central to the preservation effort was also replication of the library’s curtain wall module and cedar brise soliel (sun shade) on its south façade.

Image of bris soleil at Simpson College's Dunn Library

Cedar bris soliel at Simpson College’s Dunn Library

Completed in January 2024, the $10.5 million renovation included a redesign of the library’s first floor to include expanded student study spaces and collaborative workrooms, access to e-books and digital databases, plus dedicated areas for the college’s teacher education program and its prized physical collections.

New finishes, lighting and furniture plus a new outdoor patio were designed to enhance student centric and gathering spaces. Care was also taken on the library’s second floor to preserve its original stacks while threading new systems throughout the building.

Image of book stacks in Dunn Library at Simpson College

Book stacks in Dunn Library at Simpson College

“Everyone’s incredible creativity to control costs, solve problems, and finish work has been greatly appreciated. That we finished on time and on budget for a January 2024 opening when we were still faced with massive inflationary pressures and supply chain issues from 2021 onward is near miraculous. That we managed to stay true to Neutra’s visual language while updating the space for today’s students is frankly delightful. That we fixed the MEP through all this and still stayed on budget is rather amazing. Simpson has a building of which it can be proud for many years ahead,” commented John W. Woell, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Academic Dean, Simpson College.

Common space at Simpson College's Dunn Library

Common space at Simpson College’s Dunn Library

Reference desk at Simpson College's Dunn Library

Reference desk at Simpson College’s Dunn Library