The Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration

Newman Tower in Olin Library. Photo by James Byard.

At the beginning of this month, faculty, staff, alumni, current students, and friends of Washington University in St. Louis witnessed the re-dedication of Olin Library after a massive two-year reconstruction project. Those who have been on campus for the entirety of the project have been particularly impressed to see how what started as a large hole in ground of Whispers Café has been transformed into the remarkable Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration.

Overview of the Tower

The Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration

Model of the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration

The Newman Tower was made possible by the continued generosity of the Newman family and the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. It spans four levels, with the Newman Exploration Center on Level A, a variety of unique exhibitions on Level 1, a collaborative study space on Risa’s Landing on Level 2, and quiet study space in the Sky Room on Level 3. Below the tower, on the basement level, is new vault space to house the University’s expanding collection of rare books and manuscripts.

The Newman Exploration Center

The Newman Exploration Center on the A Level of the Newman Tower is meant to inspire visitors to explore new frontiers both academically and physically. Andy Newman himself donated a rare and wonderfully illustrated Blaeu Atlas to be permanently displayed in the space. The Center also includes a new Research Studio, A/V Studio, and instruction rooms equipped with the latest technology for making and recording presentations.

The Newman Exploration Center at the bottom of the Newman Tower in Olin Library. Photo by James Byard.

Tied to the Newman Exploration Center is the new Newman Exploration Travel Fund (NEXT) scholarships and grants to provide students, staff, and faculty with the financial means to achieve cultural, intellectual, philosophical, and/or academic goals through travel. This year, Washington University has awarded the inaugural NEXT grants to seven members of the University community.

A wall of the Newman Exploration Center featuring images of places that Washington University students, alumni, faculty, and staff have traveled. Photo by Alison Carrick.

New Exhibition Spaces and a Renovated Café

Above the Newman Exploration Center is the renovated Whispers Café. The café’s new menu items and seating spaces have been incredibly popular with Wash U students since it opened in the winter, making Whispers a little more buzzing than its name might imply. Connected to Whispers are the Newman Tower display cases, which spotlight objects from Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections as well as loaned artifacts and exhibits curated by students and faculty. Inaugural displays feature exhibits on Forms of the Book, a manuscript from Michelangelo, the Newman Money Collection, the Triple Crown Collection, Biedermeier Greeting Cards, and St. Louis Baseball History.

The first level of the Newman Tower, containing display cases for the University’s collections and temporary exhibits. Photo by Alison Carrick.

Risa’s Landing

If you can’t find a space to sit in Whispers, you can venture up the spiral staircase of the Newman Tower to Risa’s Landing, named for Chancellor Wrighton’s wife Risa Zwerling Wrighton. The space has an open balcony and seven tables around the perimeter whose illustrated tops are meant to represent the desks of prominent individuals with ties to Washington University, inspiring students to imagine what they can achieve at their own desks. Included in the images on these tables are the personal items of an activist, a filmmaker, an architect, a former student, an artist, and the Wrightons themselves. You can read more about each of these individual tables here.

Risa’s Landing in Olin Library.
Photo by James Byard

At the center of Risa’s Landing is a unique table for displaying interesting and unique personal collections. The inaugural display in this table features Andy Newman’s personal “O-Rama” collection. In this exhibit, which injects an element of whimsy into an otherwise serious study space, viewers can find a variety of fun and unique items that all feature the phrase “O-Rama” in their name. Above this table, the lighted ceiling of Risa’s landing features an image from NASA of the Milky Way, reminding visitors that exploration need not be limited to the confines of our own planet.

The Collect-O-Rama table in Risa’s Landing.

The Sky Room

The uppermost level of the Newman Tower is the Sky Room, a quiet study space that contains a large group study table in the center surrounded by individual seating spaces along the room’s edge. The space is decorated with a photograph of Mars and the Curiosity Mars Rover, celebrating one of humankind’s most far-reaching exploration efforts. Above this image, large lantern windows open the room up to natural light and a view of the sky.

The Sky Room in Olin Library.
Photo by James Byard

If you are on campus this summer, we encourage you to stop by Olin and check out all of these new spaces for yourself. Locate a new favorite place to study in the upper levels of the tower, or perhaps find inspiration for a new academic exploration in the displays and Exploration Center below. If you can’t make it to campus, you can always check the Special Collections blog for detailed information about the current exhibits in both the Newman Tower and the Thomas Gallery. We look forward to sharing these new spaces with you!

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.