Boston Public Library

GFA / 199,930 sq.ft.
Location / Boston, MA
42º21'52"N, 71º03'32"W

Award / Nominated For 2009 Construction Specifications Institute Iowa Design Award

In the digital age, where information is conveyed with rapidity in intangible forms, people still seek interaction with tactile mediums. Our library is the assemblage of the virtual and the real; it is flexible and adaptive to accommodate new media and eliminate redundancies while respecting and maintaining access to physical formats. The location functions as an interface between reader and text, but also between reader and community. Evaluating the ethical concerns which arise from such a function, we chose a design sensitive to the historic context and texture of the neighborhood.

The library is situated at the north end of the greenway, which is a hub of activity, on the edge of a major highway system. It is close to two subway stations and acts as crossing point for many pedestrians to and from the North End neighborhood in Boston. The plaza proposed in our design orients itself appropriately to the flow of pedestrian and transit movement, while catering to adjacent buildings and businesses. 

A safe space is created for pedestrians, separated from the busy traffic nearby, by pulling back the volume of the main library from the western edge of the site and then elevating the surface of the plaza from street level. Paths to and from the plaza to the entrance are as intuitive as possible, extending logically through the programmatic layout of the library. Circulation through the building is clearly understood through visual connections. An atrium space at the entrance is positioned as the heart of the building, providing patrons necessary perspective to identify destinations and trace logical routes to get there. 

The programmatic layout within the library and the structural layout work together in repetition to visually organize the building. Structural elements function as organizational tools. A series of full floor height Vierendeel trusses alternate on every other floor. These trusses extend outwards from the mechanical cores to the atrium and to the ends of the narrow building. Stack floors appear free floating as the structural levels hold the IT labs, study spaces and mechanical chases. Modular stack spaces address new media needs. The shelving units provide storage and flexibility for various media types as well as provide indirect lighting for the space. The mixed balance of public, semi-private and private adjacent spaces transition smoothly, forming a topography of various degrees of white noise and visual connectivity to communal spaces. 

The circulation system and movement of people is legible from the exterior facades of the building. The front (Northeast) façade of the building is highly transparent and is separated by levels of ramps and wire mesh that acts as an intake for the air-handling units. The rear (Southwest) façade of the building is mostly opaque and covered by terra cotta panels. These panels are manually operable by patrons and are positioned at the levels of the study tables. In other areas, the panels are mechanically operated to bounce indirect light into the stack spaces. The ends of the library are capped with two-story study spaces that are minimally shaded and provide the most public of the private spaces. Staff spaces are located throughout the stack spaces on the southern half of the building with a small separate circulation system. Their position in the building is located as efficiently as possible and positioned as close to their applicable parts of the program. 

The program of the library includes a black-box style theatre and small gallery space. Because we saw this as an opportunity to create an after-hours life for the library, we placed these elements in a separate volume that includes its own entrance, located beneath the main volume of the library. Two masonry walls rise from the plaza, parallel with the structure of the main library, and enclose a lobby that is sunken a story below the plaza level. From each direction of the site, a staircase leads you from the plaza to the lobby. This space allows entrance into the gallery on one side and the black-box theatre on the other side. The theatre has movable and collapsible seating on the floor level and suspended seating on the upper level.

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