Ann Beha Architects has transformed a historic space for the Newark Public Library into the home of the Philip Roth Personal Library, a research and exhibition center capturing the author’s engagement with reading, writing, and Newark. In 2016, Roth announced the bequeathal of his personal collection of 7,000 books to the library. After his death in 2018, the library received not only his books, but furniture and other personal items as well. ABA was retained to design the new center as both a destination for researchers consulting Roth’s works and an exhibition space for sharing material related to the author’s work and life.
"An initial visit to Roth’s Connecticut home, an early American farmhouse, allowed us to experience its restored rooms and contemporary furnishings just as he left them," notes ABA Principal Thomas Hotaling. "The time we spent there made clear his appreciation for craft and his ability to beautifully balance heritage with modernism. We wanted to bring a corresponding balance to this renovation, respectfully restoring the space as Roth himself might have known it in his youth. It serves as a setting for a contemporary presentation of his work and life, highlighting his deep connection to Newark, the library, and design itself."
A double-height room was restored and upgraded with new electrical, fire protection, climate control, and LED lighting systems to create a museum-quality research and exhibition space. Period details in the 1898 building — such as plaster molding, pilasters, wainscoting, and double doors — were repaired and restored, and new oak flooring was installed to return the room to its original luster. A broad range of design options, critiqued with library staff and exhibit designers, led to the final spatial organization of the center, with a flexible exhibition area at one end and a studio-like reading room at the other.
"Roth left us his books, memorabilia that mattered to him, and endowments to support programs, outreach and the library’s broader needs," says Joslyn Bowling Dixon, director of the Newark Public Library. "This beautiful space, thoughtfully designed by Ann Beha Architects and the entire team, encourages exploration and fresh thinking. Programming developed specifically for the Philip Roth Personal Library will examine different perspectives, challenge norms and provide insights into how literature often reflects or predicts current realities, much as Roth did through his novels."
Location: Newark, New Jersey
Project Size: 1,400 sf
Project Team: Thomas M. Hotaling AIA, Ann M. Beha FAIA, David Elzer AIA, Ric Panciera AIA (ABA); C&G Partners (Exhibit Design); Shawmut Design and Construction (Construction Management); Legacy Engineers (MEP / FP Engineering); Silman (Structural Engineering); Hadley Exhibits Inc. (Exhibit Case & Shelving Fabrication); Lightcraft (Lighting Design); Michael Moran (Photography)