Poetry Foundation by John Ronan Architects

May 27, 2019


The Poetry Foundation by architect John Ronan is in itself poetic in the way ones moves through the building’s material layers of zinc, glazing, and wood. One has a constant view of the heart of the building; the courtyard garden. The courtyard garden nourishes poets through audio performances of their work. Check out more on John Ronan Architects.

Entry to the Poetry Foundation - Photography by versluis

Figure 1: The interior double story bookcase that advertises poetry in a non-digital manner.

One of the main conceptual issues raised by the project was how the architecture would physically display poems in a world moving towards digital displays. Within his exert Digital Culture in Architecture, Antoine Picon states “With the increasing importance of electronic media, it in attempting to transform architecture into a giant information display”. The reading later goes on to the example of Time Square.

The Poetry Foundation did not want a showy building driven by political status, they wanted to steer clear from a digital-architecture like Time Square and more towards subtlety. The building takes on this issue by storing the poems in a two-floor wooden bookcase that is visible upon entering the building instead of a digital display (seen in figure 1).

This book shelf wall is like Time Square in that only the book titles are on display, in Time Square only the news story titles are on display. If one insists on looking further into a poetry book they can open the book while at Time Square one can google search the news title on their smartphone.

More information

The Poetry Foundation has built their first building, while before they had to rent out places throughout the city to store their library of over 30,000. The Poetry Foundation has always been on a low-budget until philanthropist Ruth Lilly donated $200 million to the foundation in 2003. John Ronan Architects were chosen after a competitive deliberation to choose the correct architect. The requirements were to create a poetic architecture to house, share and create poetry. One of the main reasons that John Ronan architects were chosen was because of their non-affiliation with political influences (Broome).

Figure 2: The “void” garden space that acts as a public and private space.

Some of the board members thought that the perforated oxidized zinc metal envelope would look like a parking garage. The clients did want a building that would not be a spectacle. Ronan could get away with more risky design decisions such as using this material because his clients were creative people themselves.

John Ronan explains the movement through the building as unravelling like lines of a poem. The project became less of a job that had to be done and more a craving for further architectural harmony.


The building shapes the way for future post-digital architecture. Computer use was a tool rather than a design realm of itself. The building is humble and subtle in its gestures towards an architecture that does not distract its inhabitants from the poetry itself, yet enhances poets in their ability to create and share their work.

john ronan architects

Figure 3: The adjacent sidewalk blurs the line between public private.

Item 4: The zinc corrugated façade.

john ronan architects

Figure 5: Layered materials of zinc, glass and wood.

john ronan architects

Rendering of the Poetry Foundation

Furthermore, we hope you learned more about John Ronan Architects. Finally, check out other articles like this one on our site.

Antoine Picon, Digital Culture in Architecture, (2010): 84.

Beth Broome, “Poetry Foundation” Architectural Records (2011)

Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo, The Function of Ornament (2006): 6

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