Building Ohio State One Log at a Time

More than 100 people crowded onto the 11th floor of the Thompson Library Feb. 1 for the opening of the new exhibit Building Ohio State: From Forest to the Renovation of Thompson Library.

Close to the heart of all Buckeyes, the exhibit, which runs from February 1 to May 14, features the use of white oak trees in the Thompson Library design. White oak (Quercus alba) has been the main design feature for the library since the library was originally built, just as the university’s history has always been rich in forest conservation.

Construction on the library first began in 1907, when only 10 percent of Ohio was forested; 85 percent less than in 1788. The library would later open to students in 1913 with Ohio’s very own white oak as the primary feature. As with many of Ohio State’s buildings, this was not the only construction the library ever saw. The stacks were added on and completed in 1950, minor upgrades took place in 1970, and then from 2006 to 2009 the library went through a massive renovation.

Behind this new look was George Acock, the Founder and President of Acock Associates Architects. Growing up in the home of an artist, Acock had a creative mind and fine eye for detail. He wanted to turn the Thompson Library, which is the only building on Ohio State’s campus to ever be placed on the oval, into a source of pride for the university.

Acock wished to remain true to the tradition of quarter-sawn white oak as the primary feature in the library and expand upon this design. White oak exemplifies warmth, strength and a contemporary feel that Acock believed was essential to the building’s grandeur. It also has history and tells a story. His admiration towards this specific type of wood is shared by Adam Conway, President of Superior Hardwoods of Ohio, Inc. and Vice President of the Ohio Forestry Association, who supplied all of the wood for the Thompson Library project.

Adam Conway grew up in Southern Ohio in the hardwood lumber business. His grandfather, who was a forest ranger and ran a Christmas Tree Farm, once told him to “pay attention to the details; the big picture will take care of itself.” Luckily for George Acock, this is exactly what Conway did. After cutting down a massive 324-year-old white oak tree in 2005 that had been damaged in an ice storm, Conway decided the tree was too beautiful to be overlooked. He brought a piece of the tree to Acock, and this is when Conway first discovered Acock’s plan to renovate Ohio State’s Thompson Library, which required 60,000 board feet of wood.

The Grand Reading Room has been a symbol of the library since its original opening and is filled with tables made of solid, quarter sawn white oak, as are the custom lights on each table. All of the bookcases and furniture are made with white oak; even the walls in the atrium are clad with white oak to make a statement. Much of the white oak used in the original arches was able to be refinished and reused.

As for the tree that first put Conway in Acock’s path, it was custom cut and used in the flooring of the library, less than 10 miles from where it had stood for centuries: Ohio wood for an Ohio project.

The rest of the wood came from Ohio’s Zaleski State Forest, which is where Conway’s grandfather had been a forest ranger many years before. He may have touched the very trees his grandson so carefully chose to be displayed in the Thompson Library years later.


– By Katerina Sharp, third-year ag comm student