Located on one of the most pedestrian-friendly and vibrant streets in Boston, the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square has provided the city with a world-class public center of information, learning, arts, and culture for generations. The BPL has long struggled to harmonize the experience of its Boston Landmark buildings: the much-loved National Landmark 1895 McKim, Mead & White building and the 1972 Phillip Johnson addition. The City of Boston and the BPL team bravely took on this challenge with a $78 million, 156,000 square foot renovation of the Johnson wing transforming the inwardly-focused Johnson addition into an inviting, light-filled public space. The building now not only presents a successful, welcoming face to the public but invites us in with a café, active broadcast studio, and energy that spills right onto the sidewalk. It also finally knits together the two buildings, unifying the campus with an open, and visible connection that feels natural from either direction.
Because the Johnson building is a local Landmark, the renovation required collaboration and approval of the Boston Landmarks Commission, who worked closely with the project team. Efforts were made to retain defining features of Johnson’s original design while making necessary upgrades so that both of the historic buildings are fully accessible, physically and emotionally. Like a good book, the re-imagined spaces now draw the public in and invite them to explore.
“Built when Boylston Street was a different place, when an oasis of culture and learning felt it should turn its back on the distractions of city life that surrounded it, the Johnson Wing seemed cold and unfriendly to me as someone who spent countless hours in the BPL as a child,” said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “This project transforms the library to meet the city which has successfully evolved around it, literally turning granite barriers into pathways that cross the boundary between the library and the city. It’s remarkable to see the life and energy that a thoughtful but respectful modernization of an important historic building can bring.”