Gold: Lehman Social Services Library Entry and Photograph by: Katrina Virbitsky

Lehman Library is located in the basement of the International Affairs Building for SIPA at Columbia University. The basement stacks are hard to come by: accessible directly from street level on Amsterdam but below the fourth-floor lobby and the campus entrance on the sixth level.

When it is able to be located, it is one of the secret gems of campus. The atmosphere it gives off the impression of a Cold War bunker, more attuned to its 1970s origins, and its subterranean location. But, the library is lit by an outdoor courtyard, sunken inside the IAB with sculptural brick benches surrounding the glass-orb skylight. Inside, the skylight allows natural light to flood from the courtyard to the stacks below.

The stunning interiors include glass panelling with gold lettering, a sweeping concrete staircase and a beautiful travertine circulation desk. The library retains its retro 1970s charm with blue carpeting and oak panels, but also with reasonably yellowed piles of newspapers filing the subterranean stacks.
The library brings a touch of Soviet-era architecture to Columbia’s campus. The stacks are hidden behind meeting rooms and wood-paneled conference rooms for discussions and study sessions, but the rooms are deathly quiet, and a bit eerie, but the perfect haunt for an afternoon out of studio.

LOCATION: International Affairs Building, Columbia University


ARCHITECT: Harrison & Ambramovitz, the firm of Max Abramovitz


BUILT: 1970, RENOVATED 2010