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About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston Public Library Johnson Building

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 18th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

When the McKim, Mead & White building of the Boston Public Library’s Central Library opened its doors in 1895, it was proclaimed a “palace for the people,” and rightly so. As one of the first large free municipal libraries in the U.S., the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room, the Boston Public Library began its tradition of innovation and pioneering early on in its history. In more recent times, however, the Central Branch struggled to harmonize the experience of its two Boston Landmark buildings: the beloved McKim, Mead & White building and the 1972 Phillip Johnson Addition. Built at a time when libraries were thought of as an oasis from the distractions of city life, the Johnson wing was inwardly focused.

There were no windows in the 1972 Johnson design.

The City of Boston and the Boston Public Library team bravely took on the challenge to synchronize the two buildings with a $78 million, 156,000 square foot renovation of the Johnson wing, preserving its historically significant features while transforming the isolated addition into an inviting, light-filled, public space. Now, the library is able to take advantage of the energy and vibrancy of the Back Bay. Within the expansive front-facing glass façade, library-goers feel as though they are on the very streets they look out on. From outside, the stone hightops just beyond the warm glass feel like an extension of the interior library spilling onto the Boylston street sidewalk. Whether they are studying, reading the newspaper or a book, listening to a live broadcast of a WGBH program, or observing the city they are looking out on, it is clear that Bostonians have quickly begun to take advantage of this fluid space.

The team honored Johnson’s Landmark design by preserving key features and principles in more accessible, inviting ways. The renovation retains Johnson’s nine-square grid using glass and pathways as partitions to replace heavy barriers. The renovation also connects the McKim and Johnson buildings through physical pathways, recurrent materials, and complimentary flows. The way in which the layers of the institution now fit together conjures a sense of harmony between classicism and modernism, past, present, and future. There are now two real entrances to the library, and though they offer different experiences, they finally operate as equals.












Project Details: 700 Boylston Street, Copley Square
Owner/Developer: Boston Public Library
Architect: William Rawn Associates
Project Team: Arrowstreet, Boston Landmarks Commission, Boston Public Library, Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, City of Boston, Consigli, Cosentini Associates, Darlow Christ Architects, Green Engineer, LAB [3.2] Architecture, LeMessurier, Nitsch Engineering, PMA Consultants, R.W. Sullivan Consulting Engineers, Reed Hilderbrand, Small Design Firm

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders


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