Boston Public Library
Boylston Street Building Transformation



Boylston Street Building Transformation


Boston Public Library


Boston, MA


Phase I: 2015, Phase II: 2016


Phase I: 46,700 SF, Phase II: 109,200 SF


Renovations + Additions, Civic Realm

Collaborating with the City of Boston and the Boston Public Library, WRA transformed the Boylston Street Building (formerly Johnson Building) from an inward focused, solid “bunker” to an outward facing, transparent and welcoming hub for engagement and learning, re-energizing the Library’s longstanding mission of “Free To All.” The team worked with the Boston Landmarks Commission as they respectfully modified the building while honoring the original design concept. Key to this transformation was re-thinking the library’s program and typology around active and vibrant spaces:

  • Seamlessly open the library to the city streets with transparency and multiple entries;
  • Place the most active programs at the Front Door – New Books, Café, Broadcasting Studio;
  • Increase programming variety through specialty lecture halls, teen room, digital labs, and research support
    It’s a place where anyone can learn, can develop skills, and can access an incredible universe of resources [...] it is a welcoming, inclusive, and dynamic space—just like our City is, and just like we want our City to keep becoming.

    Martin J. Walsh, Former Mayor of Boston


    Originally built as two wings in 1895 and 1972, the BPL Central Library's inward facing 1972 addition, the Boylston Street Building, has been completely transformed into an inviting, light-filled public space that welcomes all and extends the library into a newly defined public plaza. The newly renovated space fronting on the street, known as the Big Urban Room, is a new spatial type for urban libraries, containing the library’s most active uses and bringing life to its front door from the city street.

    Now permeable to the city, the Big Urban Room is the direct counterpoint to the traditional reading room of the Main Hall in the original 1895 building, which embodies a retreat from the “bustle” of the city with its clerestory windows framing views of the sky, instead of the street. A seamless connection between the library and city is an essential quality of this new spatial type. The Central Hall has become an extension of the retail and pedestrian activity of the street and pulls that flurry of activity into the heart of the library.

    Awards + Recognition

    2022 BSA Design Excellence Citation

    2017 BSA Harleston Parker Medal

    2020 WalkBoston Golden Shoe Award

    2018 ACEC of Massachusetts Engineering Excellence Competition Gold Award for Civil/Site Design

    2018 CISCA Construction Excellence Award for Civic Building Over 50,000sf, East Region

    2017 National AIA/ALA Library Building Award

    2017 AIA New England Design Citation

    2017 AGC of Massachusetts Build New England Honor Award

    2017 Boston Preservation Alliance Preservation Achievement Award

    2017 BSA Harleston Parker Medal People's Choice Award

    2017 BSLA Award for Design Merit

    2017 Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award Grand Prize

    2017 CMAA New England Project of the Year for Renovation/Modernization Project More than $20M

    2017 Engineering News Record New England Region Best Projects Merit Award for Renovation/Restoration

    2017 IES Boston Section Interior Lighting Illumination Design Award

    2017 Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award

    2017 Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Niki Tsongas Award for Biggest Impact in an Urban Preservation Project

    Project Consultants

    Structural Engineer | LeMessurier Consultants, Inc.

    Mechanical / Electrical Engineer | Cosentini Associates, Inc.

    Civil Engineer | Nitsch Engineering

    Landscape Architect | Reed Hilderbrand

    Interior Designer | Lab [3.2] Architecture

    Lighting Consultant | Lam Partners, Inc.

    AV Consultant | Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, Inc.

    Photographer | Robert Benson, Bruce Martin, WGBH Website + BPL Website