Boston Public Library’s Philip Johnson Branch To Be Renovated

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Boston Public Library Johnson Building (Courtesy Boston Public Library)

Boston Public Library Johnson Building. (Courtesy Boston Public Library)

Library officials and developers hope to give Boston Public Library’s Philip Johnson-designed branch a facelift, but as the Boston Herald reported, local residents question who these proposed changes will really benefit. Standing besides Charles Follen McKim’s 1895 Beaux Arts masterwork on Copley Square, and across the street from the site of the recent marathon bombings, the mid-century monolith, which was completed in 1971, has been likened by many to a bunker or mausoleum and derided for its “greyness” and “bleakness.” With nearly half of Boston’s library users regularly visiting this branch, some think it’s about time for an upgrade.

Officials have set their sights on three areas of improvement for the library: enriching services, improving first impressions of the building, and creating “positive financial impact” on the library. Boston based firm William Rawn Associates have been brought in to find ways to better the building’s relationship with its users, like opening it up to the surrounding streets and doing away with the heavy plinths of the building’s facade. However, it is the third area of improvement that has the local community questioning the motives of library officials and associated developers, as some have suggested installing a bookstore and café where the children’s reading room now stands.

“It means library space will be taken away from library users to support commercial enterprise,” said David Viera, president of Boston’s Friends of the Library to the Herald. Meanwhile, others worry that planned development will take away the best-lit nooks from readers and hand them over to commercial enterprises.

Still others are thinking on a different scale. “Is it too late to tear it down?” one man asked. But with so much invested in the sheer material girth of the 10-storie building, and the preservationists surely ready to step in as soon as the project gets underway, that option is out—for now. Until then, and if the local Landmarks Commission gives them the go-ahead, the library is requesting $14 million from the city to get started with the first phases of design and construction.

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