The Kent Memorial Library is unique. It is the only free-standing public building designed by Warren Platner. Unknown to many, there is a twin to our library at Princeton University. It is a glass structure attached to Prospect House, a dining club for faculty and staff.
Warren Platner studied architecture at Cornell University, graduating in 1941. Early on, Platner worked with legendary architectural luminaries. The experience provided him with a wide range of architectural and design skills. From 1945 to 1950 he was employed by Raymond Loewy, known as the “The Man Who Shaped America.” Among Loewy’s designs were the Shell, Exxon and TWA logos, Coca-Cola vending machines and the Lucky Strike cigarette package. Platner also worked for I. M. Pei, nicknamed “The Master of Modern Architecture.” In 1955, Platner received the Rome Prize for Architecture, a highly competitive fellowship. During the early sixties, Platner worked with architect Eero Saarinen on the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. After Saarinen’s death, Platner was partly responsible for completing the soaring St. Louis Gateway Arch. Before starting his own firm in New Haven in 1965, Platner worked with Kevin Roche who was later awarded the Pritzker prize, equivalent to a Nobel prize. Planter’s first solo project was the New York showroom for Georg Jensen, the high-end seller of Scandinavian furniture. Sometime after that, Platner designed the Kent Memorial Library which opened in 1972. After Suffield, he designed many interiors including Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center and the American Restaurant in Kansas City. Previously known for his understated, efficient office spaces, Planter’s spare style became giddy, flashy and opulent.
Platner’s interest in interiors began when he worked with Saarinen, as stated in an interview.
“I said to Eero, ‘We should really be doing the whole job. McKim, Mead & White did the whole job, why shouldn’t we?’ He said, ‘If you wish, why don’t you take that on?’ And that’s how I got started in interior design: as an architect that felt that it was lacking to ignore interiors because after all, what’s the building for? It’s for doing something inside the building; it isn’t for standing out on the street looking at it. Most architects, what they care about is how it looks from the outside. I felt that that was the wrong approach.”
Platner focused on the Kent Memorial Library’s interior to create the perfect balance between the building structure and its interior.
“I tried to conceive what would be the best atmosphere, the best character for a small town public library building…Where would you like to go to look for books, perhaps sit down and read a book…The first thing we did with that concept was to think of it as a donut. If you add many individual, intimate spaces, small in scale around an opening…a garden court…then …as you enter the building, you could see across the court and see all the other spaces and you could understand the building.”
Platner spoke passionately about the library design in a 1981 interview. He also featured the library in his book Ten. As the dust jacket notes:
“these designs show …the making of desirable surroundings from mundane elements raised to the distinction of style…beautiful places …everyday buildings… using simple concepts, integrating nature, architecture and furnishings.”
Platner is best remembered for his furniture design. The sculptural bases were made of hundreds of rods, and for some chairs, required more than 1,000 welds. The Platner collection, considered mid-century masterpieces, have been in continuous production at Knoll International since its introduction. And that’s a good thing because Platner arm chairs and tables made an appearance in the James Bond movie, A Quantum of Solace and were consequently blown up. Other starring roles for the Platner Collection were in No Strings Attached and Marvel Comic’s Luke Cage, a Netflix series.
More research on Warren Platner can be done by studying the 164 boxes stored at Yale which document his career. The records include extensive documentation of major projects, such as Standard Brands, Kent Memorial Library….and others.