A look at the renovated Boston Public Library: New and Old

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.

Boston Public Library - streettrotter
The Johnson Building’s new bustling, bright entrance hall, with WGBH’s satellite studio and the Newsfeed Cafe in the background.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
A peek upwards in the Johnson Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
A bust of Edgar Allan Poe looks out a window from his perch on a bookshelf in the Johnson Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
The view of Copley Square from a balcony overlooking the famous Bates Hall. Although the new Johnson Building is beautiful, the older McKim Building is unmatched.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
A staircase in the Johnson Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
Two lions guard the marble staircase at the entrance of the McKim Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
The view over the shoulder of a marble statue in the Johnson Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
Back when it was still warm outside, the library’s courtyard was packed with visitors and students. The courtyard can be accessed from the McKim Building.
Boston Public Library - streettrotter
The John Hancock Tower peeks over the rooftop of the Boston Public Library. Taken from the library’s courtyard.

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.