Cambridge Public Library addition

Cambridge Public Library addition

William Rawn Associates with Ann Beha Architects, 2009

Harleston Parker Medal, 2010

BSA Honor Award for Design Excellence, 2010

LEED Silver Certified

This historic stone landmark wedded to a light glass box is both a study in contrasts and a unified expression of what a 21st century library should be. The complex is anchored on one end by the verticality of Van Brunt & Howe original Richardsonian building from 1889, bristling with towers and pediments, and on the other by the placid horizontality of a new glass-wrapped volume. But if the initial impression is one of simplicity, a closer look reveals a complex layering of diverse programmatic elements.

Parking and an auditorium are buried below ground, allowing the remainder of the site to become a landscaped oasis for patrons, students at the adjacent high school, and home owners all around. The first floor’s open glass volume is articulated with changing colors and materials on the floors, walls and ceilings, defining reading areas, stacks, and specialty areas toward the back. A brilliant red overhead ribbon ties the new building to the old, and then morphs into a stairway that connects to the floors up above. The top-floor children’s room is filled with playful furniture and interior details. The entire place pulses with joie de vivre.

The advanced engineering of the double-skin glass curtain wall with overhanging sun shades controls the insolation from the south, welcoming it in during the winter, and screening and exhausting it in the summer. As the air in the 4-foot gap between the glass walls heats up, it rises and flows out through vents at the top, while drawing cool air into this space from the parking garage below grade, making this entire southern facade a buffer of cooled air. Upper floors are set back and are wrapped with stone that then drops down on the buildings end and back. Its color matches that of the original building – a subtle but meaningful effort to tie the two together.

The building masterfully meets today’s library needs – opening up to the public, bringing in plentiful natural light, clearly articulating library functions, and making it a pleasant place to visit and spend time.

Sources: William Rawn Associates; HPM Jury comments