When built, the library was described as based on Italian Renaissance architecture of the early sixteenth century. The stone facade is delicately detailed, with the usual rusticated basement as the ground floor; above is a rendition of the Ionic order on pilasters, with a play of groupings of windows between the pilasters. Especially fine is the interior central glass-domed rotunda, together with its major stairways. On the walls of the stairhall is a group of murals painted by Grant Wood and his assistants in 1934; a second group was painted in 1937 for the lower lobby of the library. The eight murals in the stairhall have as their themes agriculture, engineering, and home economics; those in the lobby depict breaking the prairie. 6 In 1984 Charles Herbert and Associates added a modernist cut-into three-story addition to the older building. When this addition received a design award in 1986 it was described as an “appropriate but restrained facade.” Everything is relative, and the new addition carries on the principle of anti-contextualism; with that concept in mind, it carries it out very well.
James M. Dennis, “The Mural Projects of Grant Wood,” The Iowan 26 (Summer 1978): 22–26.