Press Room

Central Library Renovation Reopening: A Transformed Building

by mschuler

AEB_1232Inviting and inspiring, the Central Library Renovation has transformed the way the public interacts with and accesses the Johnson building and the services within. Designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. the renovation has preserved the integrity of architect Phillip Johnson’s 1972 construction, 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.

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.

When necessary, glass has been utilized to create boundaries within, while allowing 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 the two. 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 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. 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.

From the open plan to the warm colors to the nods to the historic McKim building, the Central Library Renovation carries the legacy of Philip Johnson’s architecture into the 21st century.

6 Responses to “Central Library Renovation Reopening: A Transformed Building”

  1. Joe says:

    What a difference. That old building looked like a prison, inside and out. What were they thinking back then? It was an embarrassment sitting next to the masterpiece McKim.

  2. Bill says:

    Several years ago, I wrote to the BPL about the stone barriers at the entrance to the Johnson building….to me, they represented the complete opposite of what a library should portray for welcoming the public indoors.

    So,I,am soooo glad they are gone and glass is prevalent throughout the new design…

    • BPL News says:


      Thank you for your feedback. We look forward to having you check out the revamped space!

  3. Donna Mandriota says:

    Can’t wait to explore the new space! 35 years ago I frequently walked over to the library with my young daughter. 6 years ago I sat in Bates Hall waiting for news of the birth of my first grandchild. Now my 2 young grandchildren are frequent patrons of the Adams Branch. It sounds like the Central branch will be even more beautiful, inside and out. What a wonderful resource the BPL has been and will be for future generations.

    • BPL News says:

      Hello Donna,

      Thanks very much for your kind words. We hope to see you and your family at the Central Library soon!