Summer solstice in Arizona is always hot. When the heat combines with a full moon, the best place to cool off is the main Library, known as the Burton-Barr library. Summer solstice comes on June 20 this year because it is a leap year.
The library was designed to highlight the wonderful light of the desert. Heat is kept at bay with movable shades, shutters, and “sails” that decorate the building and protect the books and library visitors at the same time. The upper floor reading room has a roof and does not quite reach the edges of the building. Hidden from view is a skylight that runs the length of the library. From the inside of the building, you can see tall columns and cables, but the edges of the ceiling do seem to float away from the wall.
A big crowd shows up for solstice at the library. In the 116ºF heat, I found it impressive. This is a photograph of a fraction of the crowd.
There was a musical program to help us wait for solar noon, which happened today just after 12:30 p.m. There was a pianist, two harpists and an amazing percussionist, who played a gong with great depth. Behind the music is a shaded window that reflects the front of the building. You can see the shading “sails” in the reflection.
The skylights are pale blue glass, the color matched to North Pole glaciers. The color was chosen to protect the books from sun damage, but also to link people in one temperature zone to all the other peoples. Will Bruder, the architect for the library, which opened in May of 1995, spoke at today’s ceremony. He explained the Buckminster Fuller tensegrity principle that holds up the roof. You can see the top of the pillar and cables that hold up the roof. The skylight is 7 feet in diameter. See the small dark spot? That’s a 7-inch clear spot to allow the light to shine in on the summer solstice.
This is what the skylights look like at solar noon. It’s a short event, highlighted by a choir singing Vivaldi’s Gloria for the entire time the sun crossed over that tiny hole.
The library is lit up because there are many skylights. The five big ones by the elevator throw light all the way down the central staircase once a year. One of the skylights throws a perfect ellipse against the glass elevator shaft.
Because the light event is short, there were several other events today. The library held a contest for employees, to write a solstice poem. The favorite (voted on by library employees) is printed on an antique Ostrander hand-run printing press. Heather Kendall wrote the poem this year.
Best of all, if you don’t mind standing in line, you get to do the printing yourself. She helped me print my copy. The image is the front of the library, with the sun sails in place.
This morning, a crisis developed–something I had to take care of quickly and completely. I took a risk. Next year, who know what will happen? Nature deserves her due. As an urban naturalist, I gambled and went to the event. I also finished the crisis work–but after I got home.
Happy Full-Moon Solstice, 2016!
–Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist, writer, and trainer. She loves all of her work.