William Rawn Associates and Ann Beha Architects • The new Cambridge Public Library stands cheek-by-jowl with the city’s renovated 1889 Main Library—both set within a landscaped park that was expanded by relocating parking spaces underground. The complex expands the idea of “a library in the park” established by the historic Van Brunt & Howe library with a new, 77,000-square-foot wing by William Rawn Associates. The new wing visually draws the park into the library by means of a double-skinned curtain wall that is 45 feet tall and 180 feet long. Organized around books—rather than community spaces, which are the focal point of many contemporary libraries—Rawn’s achieves a civic presence with its high-ceilinged ground floor.
The double-skinned façade and column-free perimeter maximize transparency from the park into the library, while filling the space with natural light—two attributes that caught the jury’s attention. “I like the transparency,” juror John Cary said. “The interior is so light-filled.” This indoor-outdoor connection is strengthened by aligning the first floor with the ground plane, a clever architectural gesture that makes the park appear to extend from the rooms. Outside, a paved courtyard connecting the new and old buildings doubles as a reading room that fuses the elements of the program. The project scope also included renovation of the 27,000-square-foot original library, executed by Ann Beha Architects. Beha’s studied restoration of the elaborately appointed reading room reinstated the rich, Victorian color scheme and revived the oak woodwork.
Jurors complimented the way the new building offers an elegant counterpoint to the Richardsonian Romanesque building it joins. “I’ve been there,” juror Bill Valentine said, “and it’s an incredibly good building.” Others remarked on the consistency of expression in the new wing, the pleasing splashes of color, and the deft handling of wayfinding elements. “We looked at quite a few libraries,” said juror Yolande Daniels. “This is the first one that was really up to the bar.”