Boston Public Library
Johnson Building Transformation

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Project

Johnson Building Transformation

Client

Boston Public Library

Location

Boston, MA

Completion

Phase I: 2015, Phase II: 2016

Size

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

Category

Renovations + Additions, Civic Realm

Collaborating with the City of Boston and the Boston Public Library, WRA transformed the 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

    A NEW SPATIAL TYPE

    Originally built as two wings in 1895 and 1972, this library's inward facing 1972 addition has been completely transformed into an inviting, light-filled public space that welcomes all and extends the library into a newly defined public plaza. This newly renovated space, 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

    2020 WalkBoston, Golden Shoe Award

    2018 ACEC of Massachusetts Engineering Excellence Gold Award

    2018 CISCA Construction Excellence Award

    2017 BSA Harleston Parker Medal – Most Beautiful Building in Boston

    2017 BSA Harleston Parker People’s Choice Award Winner

    2017 AIA / ALA Library Building Award

    2017 Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award Grand Prize

    2017 AIA New England Design Citation Award

    2017 Boston Society of Landscape Architects Merit Award for Design

    2017 Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Niki Tsongas “The Power of Preservation” Award for Biggest Impact, Urban Category

    2017 Boston Preservation Alliance, Preservation Achievement Award

    2017 Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award

    2017 Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts Build New England Honor Award

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

    2017 CMAA New England Renovation / Modernization Project of the Year

    2017 Illumination Engineering Society (IES) of Boston Section Award

    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