Pratt School of Architecture’s Reading Room opens William “Bill” Menking Book Collection

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On December 11, Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture unveiled a new reading room, which holds the William “Bill” Menking Book Collection, the library of AN’s cofounder and longtime editor-in-chief who died in 2020 due to cancer. The collection numbers over 2,000 titles and spans a range of subjects, from architecture to history, urbanism, city planning, design, art, and culture.

The reading room is located on the basement level of Pratt’s Higgins Hall in Brooklyn. The books are secured within lockers, and comfortable chairs are placed to encourage open browsing by the Pratt community. Textual supergraphics span between the walls and doors of the bookshelves.

In designing the reading room, Pratt Institute’s Communication and Marketing Creative Services team took inspiration from the books themselves and focused on typography. “Large serif and sans-serif letterforms spelling out ‘Architecture Reading Room’ wind their way across columns and walls both inside and outside of the space, continuing onto the bookshelf gates in the form of individual laser-cut textures,” Robert McConnell, senior graphic designer at Pratt, told AN. The yellow recalls the institute’s school color while the red references the space’s previous red linoleum flooring. The surrounding area was also improved to make it more suitable for design reviews.

The reading room is on the basement level of Pratt’s Higgins Hall in Brooklyn. (Tejas Raja Setlur/Courtesy Pratt)

The reading room continues Menking’s longstanding relationship with Pratt. In addition to earning degrees from UC Berkeley and The Bartlett School of Architecture, Menking graduated from Pratt in 1988 with a Master of Science in City and Regional Planning. Beginning in 1990, Menking taught a history survey course for three decades at the school’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, in addition to leading the Pratt Berlin Studio for several years. Most recently, he also served as a faculty member on the Development Committee of Pratt Institute’s Board of Trustees.

The books were previously housed at Menking’s Tribeca loft, which he shared with Diana Darling, his wife with whom he cofounded The Architect’s Newspaper with him in 2003. She continues to lead AN Media Group as its CEO/creative director. “The collection offers a Borgesian labyrinth and self-portrait of Bill’s life and his commitment to education, shared knowledge, and unbridled curiosity,” according to AN’s 2021 GoFundMe page. The campaign raised over $25,000 from 177 contributors toward the creation of the reading room. Donors are recognized in bookplates designed by artist Barbara Bloom affixed within individual items in the collection. Ken Saylor catalogued and assembled the collection prior to its delivery to Pratt.

Pratt Institute’s Communication and Marketing Creative Services team took inspiration from the books, in particular their typography, when designing the space. (Tejas Raja Setlur/Courtesy Pratt)

The donation of Menking’s library was stated in his will, but the idea for the reading room had been in progress for years before his death. Menking worked on prior schemes under Pratt’s dean Thomas Hanrahan with professors Meredith TenHoor and Lawrence Blough; initial designs were explored by faculty member Michael Chen. After Menking’s death, then dean Harriet Harriss continued the effort with Darling’s support. The project was finalized under current dean Quilian Riano.

The reading room’s opening event was attended by Pratt students, staff, and faculty. Riano, Darling, and Frances Bronet, president of Pratt Institute, provided remarks. Riano also recognized Bhavini Kapur, a graduate student in the school’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment studying City and Regional Planning, as the inaugural recipient of the William “Bill” Menking Travel Award. Kapur trekked to France to study the use of hemp as a building material.

“I am pleased with the way the room looks,” Darling said. “I think the design is thoughtful, fun, and energetic. I hope it makes students want to go in there and hang out. I lived with those books for 30 years, and they became quite familiar to me. It was emotional when they left our home, but it was nice to see them again at Pratt. I’m happy with how the reading room turned out, and I think Bill would be too. I’m so grateful for everyone who contributed financially to make this happen.”

Diana Darling, who cofounded The Architect’s Newspaper with Menking, shared her gratitude. (Tejas Raja Setlur/Courtesy Pratt)

At the opening, Darling’s remarks emphasized Menking’s dedication to education while also remembering his broad knowledge of many subjects, from architecture to art and food, even sports. This diversity of interests is reflected in the collection’s titles now available for browsing within Pratt’s reading room.

This completion follows the realization of the Sorkin Reading Room at CCNY, which relocated the library of Michael Sorkin to a dedicated space within the Spitzer School of Architecture. Sorkin died just before Menking in 2020 after contracting COVID-19. He was a friend of Menking’s, wrote for AN, and was on AN’s Editorial Advisory Board when the publication debuted its first issue in November 2003.

The books are secured within lockers, and comfortable chairs are situated around the space for reading and lounging. (Tejas Raja Setlur/Courtesy Pratt)

“This is a very exciting moment for us, and we are delighted to open Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture Reading Room, a compelling new asset that will give space for our students to generate ideas in architecture and urbanism,” Riano stated. “Bill Menking was an inspiration to all who knew him, and the reading room is a befitting place to hold the Bill Menking Book Collection where his legacy will live on.”


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