A huge renovation completed this summer at the Boston Public Library has pasted together two eras. The library’s Johnson Building has been made bright, open, and modern – an enormous contrast to the original McKim Building, which remains as dark and stately as ever.
The library’s website says that the BPL was the first municipal public library in the United States, established in 1848. The McKim Building – designed by architect Charles Follen McKim – has graced Copley Square since 1895. In 1986, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The Johnson Building? Not so much. In 1972, the Johnson Building was built as an addition to the McKim Building. A press release about the renovation contrasted the old with the new: “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.”
I’m not sure what a plinth is, but it sounds foreboding. Regardless of how the old Johnson building looked, you will see in these photos that the newly renovated version is bright, welcoming, and plinthless, and stands as a modern competitor to the classic McKim Building. Now, the Boston Public Library is an amazing spot to visit not just for the classic beauty of the McKim Building or its endless stacks. The Johnson Building is a destination now, too.
The Johnson and McKim buildings are architectural opposites, but even the contrast is something to admire. And a quick visitor’s tip: in between “oohs and ahhs” over the architecture, sit down and a find a book to read.