Nov. 3, 2011

'Lawn' in Mann Library lobby brings the outdoors inside

Gilad Meron '12 brought a little piece of the outdoors into Mann Library.

Meron, who majors in design and environmental analysis, curated a new library exhibition that celebrates the dedication of the new Human Ecology Building. To "show instead of tell" the power of nature and to demonstrate that indoor/outdoor juxtaposition, Meron created a little pocket of green space in the corner of Mann's lobby: a swath of grass surrounded by plants and comfortable chairs.

The exhibition, "The Chronicles of Human Ecology: Tradition, Transformation, Innovation," also includes archival photographs, quotes and texts in the display cases set into the lobby's walls.

At a reception and talk in Mann Oct. 28, Meron explained that the exhibition is meant to honor the College of Human Ecology's past, its transformation in the late 1960s, and its faculty members' outreach and translational research.

With funding through the Dean's Fellowship in the History of Home Economics, Meron starting designing a celebration of human ecology over the summer that explores the relationship between people and the world around them. He met with library staff members Liz Brown and Eileen Keating to brainstorm about the project.

"I threw out an idea: 'What if we turned the lobby into a park and laid grass down?'" Meron remembered. "I was half-joking, but Eileen and Liz were totally into it and got all the approvals we needed to do it."

A few months later, Meron -- with the help of friends and Eveline Ferretti, Mann's public programs administrator -- was trimming and shaping sod on the floor of the lobby, laying a tarp and cutting around the furniture with steak knives. After the grass was installed, he added plants and a few other touches.

"The library is the perfect place for this exhibit," said Mary Ochs, director of Mann Library. "Our lobby is a high-traffic area, so it was amazing to see how many people were drawn to the 'lawn' as soon as it was in place -- the exhibit really makes you stop and think about the way we relate to the space around us."

To create material for the display cases in the exhibition, Meron did extensive research in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library, sometimes spending four or five hours a day looking through archival collections about human ecology. He highlights each of the five departments in the college and emphasizes how they evolved separately but with a cohesive mission.

Meron also noted that Mann -- his "home library" -- felt like the right spot for the exhibition.

"There's such a huge variety of spaces in Mann, and now there's a new one," Meron said. "It's great to see people willing to lay down in the grass and just relax there. The main goal is really to make people happy."

"I gained more respect for my own college, more of an understanding of how it shifted over the years to respond to the needs of society," Meron said. "Human ecology really tries to improve quality of life [and it] applies that mission to not just New York state, but to everyone in the world."

The exhibition runs through the end of the semester.

Gwen Glazer is the staff writer for Cornell University Library.