The new Cambridge, Massachusetts Public Library

    Cambridge, Massachusetts needed a new main library. Oh, they already had a pretty good one.

    Cambridge Public Library
    A lovely Richardsonian thing from 1887/88. What else would you expect in this part of the world, famous for such libraries? But I suppose they outgrew this, their main branch.

    Libraries do so many more kinds of things these days. And so the good people of Cambridge decided to expand their library. That idea started way back in 1992. In 1995 they chose William Rawn Associates and Ann Beha Architect to design 70,000 square feet of new library, to restore the old 35,000 square foot building, to put loads of parking underground and to enhance the open space in front. How do you think they did? The landscaping is quite wonderful.

    Cambridge Public Library





    Cambridge Public Library
    And the new building was due to open to the public tonight, at 5 pm. There had been some grousing that it didn't fit in with the old library, and with old Cambridge, and that it looked like an office building, not a library. I guess maybe some people thought libraries, in this part of the world, are supposed to always look Richardsonian.

    The good people of Cambridge were calling the library for months asking when it would open. The last week was cold and rainy and one worried that the new library would not start off seen in its best light. Today started out a little dreary, but by 3 the sun came out and the sky turned blue and the Cambridgians came to see what was in store for them and their children.



    Cambridge Public Library
    It looks immediately like something very special. Much care went into this, it's clear.

    Cambridge Public Library
    The glass is so transparent, there seems to be no weight to the building, which sits lightly on the ground, its gentle landscape rolling up to it. The enlightenment principles embedded in the library's mission radiate.

    Cambridge Public Library
    And more people arrived who wanted to go in.

    Cambridge Public Library

    They looked along the glass at the reflections.






    Through the very transparent and lovely corners



    And then went around the corner to gaze through the glass at the land



    They looked up


    And all the way through from one end to the other.


    and back.

    Cambridge Public Library

    They stepped back a bit


    And pressed their faces up against the front glass, to see through the treated, insulated very clear low-iron glass plates, to the light-filled reading rooms awaiting them.

    Cambridge Public Library
    This all made the desire much greater.

    A large crowd assembled before five. When it was almost time to finally go in they formed a snake of a line.

    Cambridge Public Library
    At five o'clock a jazz band inside launched into a welcoming tune and the glass doors were opened to the citizens, who made themselves right at home.

    Cambridge Public Library
    One little girl was sad that she couldn't check out any book tonight, this was just a preview, to look at the place. Look right from the entrance and you see places to sit and read and enjoy the day and exchange ideas.


    In libraries I always look to see if there's a "secret" hiding place where I could curl up with a book and feel alone and safe. So far I haven't found one here, but maybe it's upstairs.

    Look left by the entrance and there's a transparent meeting room,

    Cambridge Public Library
    through which you see, and remember, that the old library building still exists. These people couldn't decide which way to go; but it's satisfying to see who else is in the building and the glass adds mesmerizing reflections and colors.

    Cambridge Public Library
    More in the core where less light penetrates, though still a lot, the architects placed a bright red, almost "Renzo Piano red" main staircase.

    Cambridge Public Library
    Every good library building needs a main staircase, right?

    Cambridge Public Library
    Lit from above with sunlight and a happy bright red it beckons to you,

    Cambridge Public Library
    rise up.

    Cambridge Public Library
    Rem Koolhaas put blood red in the Seattle Public Library in the basement, to mysterious, almost dungeon-like, erotic effect. Here the red creates a sense of pleasure and a more wholesome excitement. And as you look up to the second floor, again the outside is brought in through reflections.

    Cambridge Public Library

    On the second floor stand the stacks, bathed in light through a glass that protects the books.

    Cambridge Public Library
    How different from Louis Kahn's masterpiece Exeter Library, not far from here, where daylight is also an inspiration, but to read often involves physically moving a book from a dark space to a light one. The Cambridge main library is more casual than that.

    Cambridge Public Library
    As the sun sets, and the east coast light of Edward Hopper pours in on you, what book will you choose?

    Cambridge Public Library
    Monday I'll finish the story. I'll take you all the way to the darkness of night, we'll talk about how this building saves energy, see if there are any missteps and see if the new Cambridge library connects with the old.

    Cambridge Public Library

    continued......


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