Boston Public Library
Strategic Planning

The BPL Compass

Community Advisory Committee Recap: Johnson Building Improvement Project

by Gina Perille

The Community Advisory Committee for the Johnson Building Improvement Project met on the morning of October 19. Cliff Gayley from William Rawn Associates | Architects, Inc., walked the committee through the Rawn team’s scale model of the Johnson Building which shows the first floor, mezzanine, second floor, and exterior.

At the October 18, 2013, Community Advisory Committee meeting.

At the October 18, 2013, Community Advisory Committee meeting.

The initial phase of work on the Johnson Building project will begin in December 2013 and involves changes to the second floor including a new children’s library and teen room as well as updated nonfiction collections and reference services. One of the notable design elements on the second floor is the introduction of color to the area. (Editor’s note: the model shows color representations, not final colors.) The architect team, in partnership with members of the library team, is studying the paint colors in the McKim Building to see what colors might modernized and then carried through to the renovated Johnson Building.

Subsequent phases include work on the mezzanine, first floor, exterior, and concourse (lower) level of the Johnson Building. While those designs are not as fully developed as those for the second floor, the model helped the committee see the direction of the design. The first floor will include a new books area, borrower services, Tech Central, a café or store, and a world-class fiction section. Fiction will continue onto the mezzanine along with world languages and a community learning center. The first floor and the second floor will also have new bathrooms added. There are presently no restrooms on the first or second floor.

During the discussion period, committee members shared feedback with the architects about the importance of the underside of the mezzanine bridges having good lighting, to pay close attention to the nature of any new stairways added, and that any sort of food or beverages be located close to the entrance. The idea of a center atrium feature was well-received, especially as a parallel to the courtyard in the McKim Building.

The exterior landscape is a project element in the very early statges of development. The committee responded positively to the notion that the entrance will be greened and discussed the importance of moving the pay-toilet off the corner of Exeter and Boylston. There was also discussion about the nature of the sidewalk materials, the importance of lighting and a clear entrance to the library, and the need for thoughtful placement of outdoor furniture including garbage receptacles.

The next meeting of the Community Advisory Committee is Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 9-10:30 a.m. Commonwealth Salon. Download the list of Community Advisory Group members.

Model view of the Johnson Building mezzanine and first floor area closest to Exeter Street.

Model view of the Johnson Building mezzanine and first floor area closest to Exeter Street.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Community Advisory Committee Recap: Johnson Building Improvement Project”

  1. S. says:

    Wonderful! Excellent that you are looking for color schemes to harmonize/resonate with the McKim Building. I actually quite like the model’s posited use of sky-blue and sunset-pinkish orange, because this plays nicely with the experience of the McKim Courtyard (in which the various tones of marble, brick, glass and granite open-up to the sky; which suggests the Courtyard as a sort of visual metaphor, for the balance between a building’s “architectural integrity” and its openness to the surrounding space/adaptable use). I suppose the other color schemes that suggest themselves from the McKim building might be: the particular shade of Gusatvino tile; and perhaps some of the blues and greens used in the Puvis de Chavannes mural; I suppose you could also work-in some interesting highlights that might quote the darker reds and golds from the Sargent and Abbey murals.
    I suppose the bottom-line is that the use of color tends to be extremely subjective in all artforms– again, I would encourage you to pursue “sky” colored themes, both from the Courtryard and the Stairway, because I personally feel that these are some of the best moments in that building– they are moments when our experience of the McKim building is both opening-up (in terms of bridging/connecting multiple spaces) and coming-together (in terms of architectural and iconic interplay) and I would suggest this as a general metaphor for the Johnson Library’s renovation.

    I think the idea of adding a central atrium feature is also very good, in terms of activating that space on both a human level (providing a point of experiential focus) and tying-it-in to the rest of the building; again, thinking of the McKim Building as a point of reference/departure, perhaps you might employ a series of “white rhythmic elements” to echo the function of the Courtyard’s columns, in terms of brightening the space and providing human dimension (a la Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept) and in terms of providing a visual anchor/guide into the Atrium’s vertical space; also, I’ve always admired how McKim-Mead-White used the white columns in the Courtyard to add balance to the color schemes of brick and granite.

    ((–although I infer, based on the text of the architectural master plan, that you desire to preserve the “square-ness” of the atrium as a homage to Johnson’s initial intent/style, which is very conscientious of you; however, given the experiential play-out of Philip’s other ambitious “atrium centered library”, NYU’s Bobst, I’m not entirely convinced that Johnson’s aesthetic/social concept of this particular architectural form merits such a high level of consideration– the historical evidence of the Bobst suggesting that Johnson’s “straight-line monumental atrium” is extremely alienating on an individual level, perhaps because it fails to adequately incorporate human-scale, perhaps because it inherently creates large zones of emptiness; whereas Wright’s Guggenheim, which also consists of ramps on a central atrium, hasn’t registered a similar level of tragedy, perhaps because Wright’s work is better scaled to the human being, or perhaps because Wright’s design ensures a high-level of human crowd flow, which– despite the natural complaints of overcrowding– tends to be inherently humanizing of a space and building)).

    On a purely practical level, I’m glad that you are adding restrooms on both levels; and shifting the position of the outside “pay-toilet” also seems like a very good idea.

    Can’t wait to see more images of the models!