Some photos and some poor captions from my visit to Boston Public Library on the way to Maine last summer. French-American architecture at its best, with some Italianesque frescoes in the interior.
Boston Public Library has the third largest book collection in America. Designed by McKim, Meade and White architects, its construction finished in 1895.
The architects of BPL followed the blueprint of Ste Genevieve scrupulously. Just like Ste Genevieve’s, the exterior walls of BPL are inscribed with the names of selected authors whose works are in the library’s collections. This is an example of “architecture parlante” – an architecture that announces the function of the building simply through its form – in this case, the walls of the library become a sort of a catalogue themselves. However, you cannot mistake this building for Bibliotheque Ste Genevieve – an American flag, one of the five, puts on the building a mark of Americanness.
The rectangular courtyard creates a ‘dip’ within the urban fabric. You can see the skyscrapers and tall buildings surrounding the library, yet you are sheltered from the noise of the city in this tiny slice of paradise. People sitting at tables are protected from the rain but can still hear the hum of the fountain and enjoy the greenery. The courtyard regularly holds events such as small concerts and book readings.
I was lucky to arrive at the library just before an 11am art and architecture tour around the building was starting. The tour guide was knowledgeable – though he definitely talked about the Italianesque frescoes for way longer than I could stay attentive for.
The interiors of the Library are rich in decoration and expensive materials. The walls on the right have been covered by Italianesque frescoes. The arcade on the left is composed of ornate Corinthian columns made of marble. Elaborate chandeliers light up the corridor.
The main reading room has an intricate coffered ceiling. Large windows let in a fair amount of light; on top of that, desks are equipped with green lamps that add a bit of colour to the room.
It was a warm and sunny day, and resting under the masonry ceiling cut off from the noises of the city was just the perfect way to regenerate before continuing my journey to Maine.
At the time of my visit, the exhibition on display was “America Transformed. Mapping the 19th Century”. This was just the perfect topic for a geography student (like me). The power of maps, as we learn early on, lies not only in their capacity to give us directions on a holiday road trip. Maps have always shaped the way we see the world – as well as reflected their makers’ perceptions of reality. They set out boundaries, give places names, and show spatial patterns (demographic, economic, land use…), impacting the way we see the land.
The Library consists of two parts: the old building and the new. The new part has a variety of functions – aside from holding part of the book collection, there is a library cafe situated right next to a real radio recording station. Customers and library users can see radio presenter in actions during their visits. A large staircase leading up to the reading rooms has in the past been used to host an orchestra concert. This shows the diversity of functions that libraries fulfil in contemporary cities.