Woburn Public Library
Owner: City of Woburn
Location: Woburn, Mass.
Adding an additional 30,500 square feet to the historic Woburn, Massachusetts, public library, this simple but elegant contemporary expansion enhances rather than competes with the original design. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in 1876, the library has long occupied an elevated site at the center of Woburn and has been widely celebrated for its architectural majesty. The new addition marries past and present to shape a 21st-century library ready to serve a growing community.
At 17,400 square feet, the original library, despite several programmatic expansions throughout its 140-year history, could no longer accommodate Woburn’s needs. In 2014, after four rounds of applications across 20 years, the state’s board of library commissioners approved funding for an addition that would bring the library into the modern age.
The original design’s cultural and historical significance were both the building’s greatest asset and challenge. The library is notably more ornate than Richardson’s later work, and the team needed to carefully navigate its profuse decorative expression to attach the addition’s roof, floors, and walls with minimal impact. Through collaborations with Woburn’s leaders, library staff, and patrons, the design team opted for transparency and subtle gestures to amplify the original library’s beauty.
The ultimate solution was a high spatial volume encased in glass, which minimizes intersections with the existing facade but allows light that highlights the architectural details. A sensitive structural intervention allows new passageways through the north sandstone wall to maintain spatial continuity and circulation between new and old. The spatial organization also enhances sightlines that support library staff in maintaining a secure environment, while technology, such as self-checkout stations and automated book sorting, allows librarians to focus more on programing and patron engagement.
Renovating and restoring Richardson’s library to its original state while also upgrading its aged systems to current standards was a critical objective of the project. The new addition is LEED Gold certified, and its exterior glazing system draws in ample daylight while reducing solar heat gain. Its rainscreen, comprising large-format stone panels, is a nod to the original library’s bearing stones with open joints that accentuate the addition’s modern technology.
Inclusive and efficient, the addition has revived the library’s status as a vibrant community center. Its flexible spaces accommodate future growth and shifting community needs, while its improved accessibility creates a welcoming learning environment for all.