Boston Public Library’s Redesign in Progress

Teen Central

The average age of users in the newly renovated second floor of Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Johnson Building has come down at least a decade, according to BPL President Amy Ryan, and it’s easy to see why. The goal was to create a library that is flexible and responsive to user needs. BPL’s management is serious about the principles in its strategic plan, called the Compass. “We take those eight principles very seriously. We even take fun (Principle #8) seriously…. It really is about the user, the expectations of the user of all ages.” said Ryan.

Philip Johnson’s massive addition to BPL’s iconic Beaux-Arts style McKim Building opened in 1972. According to the BPL website, the two requests for the exterior were that the building should “observe the existing roof line of the McKim Building, and to use material (Milford granite) that would harmonize with the exterior of the existing Central Library building.”

The result was an architectural statement very much of its era: a Brutalist monolith, experimental in structure and stark in aesthetic. Author Dennis Lehane, a BPL trustee, is quoted by Ryan as saying that even as an adult, upon entering he felt “really small and lost.”


Children's Library 2

The first phase of renovations to the Johnson Building was completed February 21 with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony. Now, stepping into the transition hallway from the pillared, gold and white marble of the McKim Building, the first hint of transformation appears in the form of blue carpet. Moving into the Johnson Building proper, that hint blossoms into a visual assault of red, blue, purple, and green. Brightly colored carpet, walls, shelving, and even ceilings seem overwhelming at first glance but settle into a color-coded system, with signage pointing the way.

“This used to be a really big gray expanse, and when the architects came in with all this color we went …eee, that’s bright,” said Michael Colford, Director of Library Services. Ryan, added that William Rawn Associates “really took the lead on that. They were really right about [the color].” The massive granite atrium and skylight, refurbished after the second floor opened, provides natural light and a soothing neutral counterpart to the bright colors.

Shelving end panels and countertops are bright red, signifying nonfiction. Computer screens in two different sizes are mounted on the end panels: the smaller ones with keyboards are traditional OPACs, while larger format touchscreens showcase BPL’s digitized collections of maps, prints, and rare books—a way to bring the old and new together.


Community Reading Area

Besides the shift in service philosophy, another goal was to remind people of the city outside. “We really wanted them to know that not only are they in the Boston Public Library, but they are in theBoston Public Library. We really wanted to infuse it with a Boston sensibility,” said Colford. This connection was accomplished through the use of symbolic representations of local icons, names of spaces, a much improved connection to the street, and echoes of the parent McKim Building.

Children’s and teen services, which were relocated to the first floor McKim Exhibition Hall when renovations began in November 2014, now occupy their permanent home. The floor is organized to manage services to all ages, in a journey from prereaders to adult lifelong learners. Visible connections between areas allow a sense of continuity while still providing functional separation.

Story Time

The Children’s Library is zoned by age groups, with services to children from the youngest users to tweens. Attention to the user experience is evident, with a sensory learning wall, tunnels through the stacks scaled for children, and the internally-lit lion cubs that are a nod to the well loved stone lions on the stairway in the McKim Building. A storytime throne is flanked by brightly colored “Storyscape” facades reminiscent of Back Bay brownstones. A tween space has more grownup furniture and a blackboard, with a whimsical rendering of the iconic Zakim Bridge above. The Bridge, as the area is called, serves as a symbolic bridge between the children’s and teen area.

Teen Central, across the way, is furnished in industrial chic, with stainless steel mobile shelves, booths and leather easy chairs, a reclaimed Boston street light, and repurposed transit signs. The digital Maker space is staffed by a “technology curator” and equipped with options ranging from comic book software to recording equipment. Next door is the lounge—by far the biggest draw so far—with four different gaming systems. The two 80″ screens allow either competition or large multiplayer games.

Children's Library 1

Work spaces in the adult area are called the Boston Common (large work tables with task lighting and power connections) and the Boylston Common (a laptop bar that spans the space in front of a window overlooking Boylston Street). The massive arched windows, part of the original Johnson design, were reglazed, removing the heavily tinted glass, and the mullions were replaced with fewer, smaller profile pieces. Boylston Common is Colford’s favorite place on the floor. “I love just sitting there with a laptop or with a book and every once in a while just looking up and watching Boylston Street go by.”


The renovation of the Johnson Building will ultimately transform the entire building, with the removal of the massive granite plinths on the street already accomplished. Visibility from the street into the first floor is paramount in the design. “As you know, library services have changed quite a bit since [the 1970s]. You can only do so much to update your service model when you’re constrained by physical building,” Colford pointed out. The decision to retain the existing building was determined partly by economics and partly because much of the Johnson Building is protected by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Ryan noted the importance of bringing the commission into the process very early and working together to improve services while respecting the architecture. The budget for the second floor was $16.1 million, and the budget for the entire renovation is $75.5 million.

The rest of the project, including the first floor and mezzanine, is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2016. Boston can look forward to a new community learning center, a business and digital innovation center, and expanded technology. The best of user experience design from retail, museums, and educational institutions will be incorporated.


Texto original retirado do site Library Journal.

STARA, Lauren. Boston Public Library’s Redesign in Progress. Library Journal: 2 jun. 2015. Disponível em: <;. Acesso em: 5 jun. 2015.

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