Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library Renovation
Architect Firm: Utile, Inc.
Owner: City of Boston Public Facilities Department and the Boston Public Library
Location: Roxbury, Mass.
Project site: Previously developed land
Building program type(s): Public Assembly – Library
The central design concept of the renovation is to create a welcoming space for the Roxbury community by introducing natural light and warm materials while preserving the essential characteristics of the Brutalist-style concrete building. The high-ceilinged public spaces, the concrete structural frame exposed inside and outside, and the large expanses of glass block contributed to the pre-renovation branch being the highest energy user in the Boston Public Library system.
Replacing the translucent glass block with a timber curtain wall transforms the library from an introverted bunker into a vibrant extroverted community hub integrated with its neighborhood. The size and spacing of the mullions were carefully studied via computer modeling to maximize natural light and visual comfort. The depth of the east-facing mullions provides passive glare control during library operating hours, while the south glazing takes advantage of mature deciduous trees outside. This curtain wall contributes to a significant reduction in the library’s energy use through greatly improved u-values, solar heat gain coefficient, and reduced reliance on artificial light. The white oak glulams that structurally support the curtain wall also provide a warm glow as the sun reflects off the natural finish of the wood. This glow is further reflected in the wood ceiling baffles, paneling, and bookshelf surroundings throughout the library.
These warm materials provide a counterpoint to the exposed concrete structure of the original design, which is preserved in the renovation. Rather than cover the exposed concrete frame and destroy one of the essential qualities of the Brutalist design, new insulation was added at opaque wall and roof areas to improve the overall thermal envelope and in strategic areas mitigate the thermal bridging of the existing structural frame. Non-original layers of paint were carefully removed to expose the original concrete finish and preserve the wood grain formwork texture.