Boston Public Library, Johnson Building Transformation

BPL, Johnson Building Transformation

William Rawn Associates, renovation, 2016

Harleston Parker Medal, 2017

Preservation Achievement Award, 2017

Once closed off from the outside by tinted windows and a series of granite screens or “plinths,” Rawn's renovation of this Philip Johnson building opens a strong visual link to the street. With the plinths removed, clear glass windows, and new landscaping including trees, a civic table, and walking paths, the Johnson building and Boylston Street are now connected like never before. Removing the building’s original first floor lobby walls means that visitors are now greeted with the uplifting view of the entire first floor and mezzanine under one continuous ceiling. The incorporation of a WGBH radio studio, retail shop, and cafe reflects the library's evolving role, while flexible spaces are intended to accommodate changing demands in the future.

Glass has been used to create boundaries within, while maintaining a visually open floor plan. A retractable glass wall separates the retail space from the rest of the first floor, and a glass elevator between the Johnson and McKim buildings allows better visibility between them. Staircases now lead to the mezzanine level with its newly elevated ceilings, making it easier for visitors to intuitively navigate the space. This open design has not only made the Johnson building much more inviting and uplifting, but it also makes more visible Phillip Johnson’s original nine-square building plan.

The renovation 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. 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 six exterior “plinth gardens” is preserved at the rear of the building.

Source: BPL