Central Library Renovation of the Boston Public Library                                                    

Boston, MA

After undergoing extensive renovations, the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square reopened its doors to the public with a grand celebration on Saturday, July 9th, 2016.  Following a talk by Robert Gallery, Char of the Board of Trustees of the BPL; Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Tricia Lyons of the Boston Public Facilities Department; David Leonard, President of the BPL; and architect William Rawn,  the grand reopening and ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the completion of the second and final phase of renovations to the 1972 Phillip Johnson addition to the historic Mckim, Mead and White public library.

Designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc.,  the renovation seeks to preserve the integrity of architect Phillip Johnson’s 1972 addition to the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, while adding architectural features that make it more connected to the historic McKim building and to Boylston Street, and more aligned with the BPL’s 21st century library mission.

The renovation of the Johnson Building consisted of 150,000 SF of renovation conducted in two phases.  Phase 1, completed in early 2015, provides greater and improved amenities for the Reference, General Collections, Childrens, and Teens.  Phase 2, removed the granite plinths, and opened up the three bays facing Boylston to create a new two-story Boylston Hall which includes additional entry points and retail on the northwest corner. This second phase of work includes updates to the lower level, first floor, mezzanine, and the building exterior of the Johnson building.

Once closed off from the outside by tinted windows and a series of granite screens or ‘plinths,’ the renovated Johnson building is now visually open to the street. With the plinths removed, clear glass windows, and new landscaping including trees, a civic table, and walking paths, the Central Library and Boylston Street are now connected like never before. Removing the Johnson building’s original first floor lobby walls means that, instead of a shadowy entrance, visitors are now greeted with the uplifting view of the entire first floor and mezzanine under one continuous ceiling.

The renovated Johnson building also draws on the colors and materials of the McKim building to strengthen the connection between the two. The vibrant color scheme of the Johnson building’s walls and carpets is pulled from the McKim building’s famed murals and paintings, while the stone floor and soaring entrance take their cue from the McKim building’s magnificent lobby. Discovery of the two courtyards now becomes possible directly from the Boylston Street Entrance. Additional design features include warm wood paneling and contemporary furniture.  The Johnson lobby also includes a mural of the Boston skyline, depicted by a mosaic of colorful, hard-covered books hung up in an array on a wall. When possible, the renovation recycles old materials: the Johnson building’s original granite plinths can be found in the exterior paving and its original tables have been refinished for the mezzanine.  One of the 6 exterior ‘plinth gardens’ is preserved at the rear of the building.

For the Central Library Renovation of the BPL, The Green Engineer provided:

  • Energy Modeling Services

Our firm provided Energy Modeling services to study the energy impacts of various design alternatives, and to quantify the expected energy savings to the existing building.

2017 Harleston Parker Medal Recipient


Owner: City of Boston, Boston Public Library

Owner's Project Representative: PMA Consultants

Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc.

Contractor: Consigli Construction Corp.

Landscape Architect: Reed Hilderbrand

Energy Modeler: The Green Engineer

Photography: Bruce T. Martin Photography (© Bruce T. Martin Photography); additional photography by The Green Engineer (Elizabeth Cerda)