Rants and Raves: Frost Library’s Architecture

Assistant Opinion Editor Edwyn Choi ’27 raves about Frost Library’s often unrecognized beauty.

Rants and Raves: Frost Library’s Architecture
Edwyn Choi '27 argues that Frost, despite its faults, has an unorthodox beauty of its own. Photo courtesy of Edwyn Choi '27.

Amherst’s architecture is a kaleidoscope of time: I can observe two centuries’ worth of change walking from one end of campus to the other, from the Science Center’s glass panes to Johnson Chapel’s Greek columns. The First Year Quad, with its Federal-style buildings like Appleton and Williston, appears to bring you all the way back to the college’s Puritan roots — but there’s a strange, brutalist inconsistency that sticks out like a sore thumb: Frost Library.

I’ve heard the common complaints: It’s ugly. It’s pointy. It looks like a prison. How come we have this glorified block of concrete when Mount Holyoke’s library looks like it came straight out of Harry Potter? I’ve even heard of people who go out of their way to avoid studying in Frost just because of its architecture. And that’s not even getting to the fact that Frost is our only option, whereas peer institutions like Williams and Smith at the very least have multiple.

But I love the way Frost looks. It’s heavy and imposing, yet there’s a feeling of safety whenever I pass by it on my way to class. Sure, I can say it looks like a prison, but I also think it resembles a bastion, a fortress, something that’ll stand the test of time. Its blocky geometry and large size evoke feelings of strength and power that other libraries can’t really match. Even beyond its external architecture, Frost’s internal layout brings a feeling of safety: I doubt there are many other libraries that evoke the same coziness as hiding away in A-level or the catacombs. To appreciate Frost’s architecture is to redefine what it means to study in an environment that feels safe: a library doesn’t always have to resemble Hogwarts — it can be heavy, imposing, and monumental without compromising safety and comfort. A secure place to study in silent peace.

And who doesn’t want a library that looks like it came straight out of Blade Runner or Dune? Something that tries to bring the future into the present, even if it’s rooted in the past? It’s an honest stronghold, a building that doesn’t need tacky ornaments or pretentious design to assert itself. Something different from Johnson Chapel’s columns and the Science Center’s glass panes: a monument that centers itself not on religious movements or flattery, but on brutal honesty.

While Frost isn’t a Gothic castle or a glass dome, and it certainly isn’t the sleekest or prettiest (in the conventional sense) of buildings on campus, we should appreciate what its architecture is attempting to do: to create a stronghold of ideas right in the center of campus, a fortress that’ll preserve our knowledge for years to come. So the next time you walk past our monument of a library, give it a little more love; it doesn’t deserve the hatred it gets — and it certainly isn’t ugly.