Alumni Give Library a Facelift

You would not expect to see a “cabana” and “den” in a university library, but thanks in part to a pair of creative alumni, that is what you will find looking through the “portal” in the recently renovated Sorrells Engineering and Science Library at Carnegie Mellon University.

Lexi Chung and Filip Agren, 2010 and 2011 graduates of CMU’s School of Architecture, respectively, and founders of the Pittsburgh-based design firm Standard & Custom (S&C), provided the wooden fabrication for these three key features. The “portal” connects the front and back sections of the library; the cabana features group study tables; and the den houses a multimedia collaborative study area.

GBBN Architects led design for the project, which significantly enhances the library’s space, including expanded seating and new technology. S&C was brought in for their knowledge and expertise.

“We wanted to work with Lexi and Filip because of their experience with digital fabrication as well as their design sensibility,” said GBBN Project Designer Amanda Markovic. “It was a seamless collaboration.”

Made of bamboo, the pieces installed at Sorrells are meant to evoke curiosity while bringing warmth to the existing exposed concrete. GBBN designed and developed an initial 3D model of the elements, from which S&C fabricated detailed mockups and constructed the final products.

“Filip and I were thrilled to be back at our alma mater to help with this project,” Chung said. “It’s been our dream to be part of the effort to improve campus facilities.”

Dean of University Libraries Keith Webster sees the project as a reminder of the impact CMU alumni can make.

“The craftsmanship Filip and Lexi brought to this undertaking will be visible to every student who enters Sorrells.” Dean Keith Webster

Since its founding, S&C has grown into a multifaceted operation that provides interior and furniture design, brand integration, fabrication services and large-scale Computer Numeric Control (CNC) production. Their work can be seen throughout Pittsburgh and the Cafe at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York City.

Agren and Chung said setting up shop in Pittsburgh has been prudent.

“This is where we began our careers and where it makes sense to continue our endeavors because of the relationships we’ve established,” Agren said.

“Pittsburgh has the old and new, a great city/suburban mix, and is poised for major rehabilitation and development efforts, which create opportunities,” Chung added.

Education played a big role in shaping the pair’s business sense. They are among the first to use the School of Architecture’s Digital Fabrication Lab.

“CMU prepared us in so many ways for our professional lives: the late nights, the deadlines, how to take criticism, how to collaborate,” Chung said. “It really opened our eyes to fabrication technology.”