William Rawn Associates, Architects Inc.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge Public Library

Originally designed in 1887 by Van Brunt & Howe and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. LEED Silver certified the building’s main facade is a double-skin curtainwall.

www.rawnarch.com

This project reveals the perfect marriage of old and new: the original Romanesque library building, designed in 1889 by Van Brunt & Howe, has been rigorously renovated by William Rawn Associates, Architects Inc. and seamlessly connected to a striking new 76,000-square-foot glass building. A newly landscaped city park surrounds the library, and a 33,000-square foot green roof covers a 70-space underground parking garage.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the main branch of the Cambridge Public Library is the civic heart of the community, attracting more than 2,000 visitors daily. The new building’s continuous transparent front façade and ground-floor spaces set at park level were designed to celebrate the relationship of the building to the park. Behind the glass façade, the interior space feels more like a lively bookstore than a library: eating and drinking (except at computer terminals), even talking, are permitted on the first floor, and an inventive reinterpretation of spaces permits new technologies in the historic building.

The southwest-facing façade of the new building demanded a strong response to the potential for heat gain and glare on the interior. A high-performance double-skin curtain wall of low-iron glass, the first of its kind in the United States, ensures the thermal and visual comfort of occupants. The 180-foot-long front façade has a three-foot-deep air space, a multistory thermal flue, and movable 12-inch-deep sunshades. The blinds collect the sun’s heat energy before it enters the conditioned building, and the motorized aluminum louvers provide glare protection at all sun angles. The open, sunlit “reading porches” along the perimeter are among the most popular spaces in the building.

The restoration of the main reading room in the historic building resulted in a warm, inviting space for readers of all ages. The deep, rich Victorian color scheme was reinstated, and oak woodwork was restored. Period chandeliers and reading lights based on historic photos were installed, supplemented by contemporary fixtures. On the upper walls of the historic rooms, a series of restored Works Progress Administration murals, painted in 1934, depict the ten divisions of knowledge that make up the Dewey Decimal System.

This project was chosen as a 2015 recipient of the Institute Honor Awards for Architecture.

Image credits

Cambridge Public Library

Chuck Choi; Robert Benson

CPL 1

Chuck Choi; Robert Benson

CPL 2

Chuck Choi; Robert Benson

CPL 3

Chuck Choi; Robert Benson

CPL 4

Chuck Choi; Robert Benson