The 10,000-square-foot Valente Branch Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an anchor in a much larger community-focused complex. It serves both nearby schools and the greater community, providing learning spaces for families and patrons of all ages. At more than twice the size of its previous home, the library has broadened its programming while serving as a welcoming beacon that activates a new civic plaza.
The site for the library and the overarching complex has long been essential to the city. It first opened in 1896 as a public park with a library, offering Cambridge's citizens equal access to open space and books. The first library stood at the center of the park for more than 60 years until a 1961 facility and the Cambridge Street Upper School replaced it. When it opened in 2019, the library's newest home reconnected the city and park through its central green spine, positioning the library as a critical community and educational resource.
As the most public element of the complex, the library's facade echoes the adjacent school's curved form but opts for glazing in lieu of terracotta. Its transparency beckons patrons to enter and helps capture daylight, tempered by a sizeable wood-clad canopy. The library's entrances were carefully placed to allow both students and the community to enter directly.
The team embraced social justice as one of the project's core values and designed it for universal access. it's wide-ranging wireless internet provided vital internet access for the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, even while the library was closed.
Like many 21st century libraries, Valente Branch Library's design shifts the focus from a place to store books and volumes to a place for gathering and the exchange of ideas. Welcoming experiences await those who enter from the library's front porch through its active spaces. A staffed welcome desk is placed at the entry, and a programmed community room, as well as places to work, research, and play, lay just beyond. The team also created a sensitive reimagining of the 1961 library's reading garden, one of the earlier facility's beloved features.
The team embraced social justice as one of the project's core values and designed it for universal access. Its wide-ranging wireless internet provided vital internet access for the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, even while the library was closed. The library reflects the cultural diversity of the city, where more than 50 different languages are spoken. A bocce court has been given prominence along Cambridge Street, and existing outdoor artworks were refurbished and integrated into the library's design. Inside, highlights of the branch's Portuguese collection sit alongside today's digital offerings.