Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library

March 16th, 2008 - Posted in Architecture Design

Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, Architectural Design

The new Honan-Allston Branch Library is one of twenty-seven branches that provide an important outreach to Boston’s neighborhoods, often serving a dual role as community centers. Historically, this building type has been characterized by a casual, accessible, democratic expression, less authoritarian than other civic buildings. This latent tendency was reinforced by the library’s site along a heavily trafficked thoroughfare lined with wood residences, brick warehouses, and scattered commercial buildings in a neighborhood that lacks any clear architectural language. The client also placed specific demands on the building, among them requirements for a central reading garden, a separate entry for community use, and a one-story configuration to maximize visual supervision on the inside.

Responding to these conditions, the 20,000 square foot building’s parti is divided into three parallel bands aligning with the main street. The front zone contains all the active, information-gathering program components, including the stacks. The rear zone contains all of the meeting and program spaces, which have off-hours community use. The middle zone is very transparent, with alternating gardens and glass pavilion reading rooms. By creating several small garden spaces rather than a single large court, each reading room is able to have a garden on two sides, an organization which allows the preservation of a beautiful 80-year old copper beech in one of the gardens. At the opposite end, another garden opens to the side street providing a forecourt to the building’s community entrance. The center garden is accessible during off-hours use, while the rest of the building remains secure.

Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, Architectural Design 1

On the front of the library, the periodicals reading room is treated as a double-height piece establishing a scale and material richness commensurate with the institution’s importance, but also appropriate to the neighborhood, continuing the rhythms of adjacent pitched roofs. Whereas the majority of the library recedes from the street edge, the reading room serves as the building’s public interface, establishing a strong presence and character for the library.

Although located within a suburban context, the library, Allston’s first civic building, reaffirms a sense of urbanity by opening towards the street in a public gesture of invitation with a long horizontal band of windows providing views from outside to the activities within. Once inside, patrons arrive at a vantage point where the organization of the entire library unfolds before them, revealing the three inner gardens. These spaces occupy the heart of the building around which all activities take place, bringing light and garden views to every part of the library.

The library’s material palette includes slate panels, shingles and rough sculpings, unfinished iron-wood cladding, and wood windows. These durable materials were chosen not only because they minimize maintenance demands, but also because they acquire a beautiful patina with age. On the interior, the wood casework and cork floors share the same warm tones of the exterior. Inside and out, this palette balances the building’s urbanity with an informality appropriate to the library’s community-oriented function.

Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, Architectural Design 2

Project details

* Project Name: Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library
* Client: City of Boston, Department of Neighborhood Development, and Boston Public Library
* Project Type: Architectural Design – new building
* Principal Designer/s: Jorge Silvetti, Principal in Charge; Rodolfo Machado, Consulting Principal
* Design Team: Timothy D. Love, AIA, Project Director; Matthew T. Oudens, AIA, Project Architect; Michael LeBlanc, Designer; Gregory G. Canaras, Designer
* Contractor/s: Peabody Construction Company, Inc.
* Date of commencement of project: 1999
* Date of completion of project: 2001
* Location of site: Allston, Massachusetts
* Site Area: 57,000 sq. ft.
* Built-up Area: 22,000 sq. ft.
* Cost of Construction: $6.5 million


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