Cambridge Public Library

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Location: Cambridge, Massachusettes. Historic town

The New Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts includes a New Building (76,700 sf) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the renovated 1889 Historic Main Library originally designed by Van Brunt & Howe (27,200 sf) and a newly landscaped City Park. The park is expanded by locating a 70-space parking garage underground, covered by an intensive green roof. The project is LEED Silver Certifi ed. (Completed in 2009 with a construction cost of $69M).  

FIRST U.S. DOUBLE-SKIN CURTAIN WALL OF ITS TYPE: 

New Type of Civic Building

The New Public Library includes a large-scale double-skin curtain wall as the building’s front facade (180’ long x 45’ high). The double-skin facade achieves a remarkable transparency (in spite of its southwest orientation), positioning the library as a new type of civic building:

• A democratic and populist library celebrating Cambridge as a highly diverse community (with over 50 languages spoken in its schools) and creating spaces that are welcoming, inviting, and accessible – not imposing or elistist;

• Expanding on the idea of “Library in the Park” of the historic Van Brunt & Howe building, a building that brings the park into the library through its continuous transparent front facade.

EDUCATIONAL MANDATE OF THE LIBRARY: 

“Celebrate the Book”

Equally important to the Library was the mandate by the Director of the Library that the building “celebrate the book” everywhere – that “as you enter the building, you know it’s a building about books and reading.” 

• Unlike libraries that double as community centers, this building organizes itself around books – a strong statement about education in a city well-known both for its academic interests and its commitment to educational opportunities for its immigrant residents;

• With over 2,000 visitors each day, the library has become a new intellectual “Town Common” for Cambridge.

Response to Charter Princples

The design of the New Public Library embodies 6 imperatives that speak to the Principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism, and which follow the guidelines developed by the client and architect:

1 CIVIC HEART OF THE COMMUNITY:  DEMOCRATIC & POPULIST LIBRARY

As a democratic and populist library, the project celebrates Cambridge as a highly diverse community (with over 50 languages spoken in its schools). 

• Spaces are welcoming, inviting, and accessible – not imposing or elistist;

• The new building, with its strong connections to the newly landscaped park and nearby public spaces (including a public high school and playground), establishes the library as the “Civic Heart” of the community.

2 EDUCATIONAL MANDATE OF THE LIBRARY:  “CELEBRATE THE BOOK”

Equally important to the Library was the mandate by the Director of the Library that the building “celebrate the book”  everywhere – that “as you enter the building, you know it’s a building about books and reading.”  

• Unlike libraries which double as community centers, this building organizes itself around books – a strong statement about education in a city well-known both for its academic interests and its commitment to educational opportunities for its immigrant residents;

• With over 2,000 visitors each day, the library has become a new intellectual “Town Common” for Cambridge.

3 LIBRARY IN THE PARK

Expanding on the idea of “Library in the Park” of the historic Van Brunt & Howe building, the new Library brings the park into the library through its continuous transparent front facade. A double-skin curtainwall maximizes visual transparency from the park into the library, and from library reading areas out to the park.

4 CLEAR AND SEAMLESS CONNECTION BETWEEN OLD AND NEW BUILDINGS

By connecting old and new, the project provides a wide variety of welcoming spaces that draw in users of all ages and backgrounds. 

• Achieves a seamless connection of interior spaces within the new and old buildings, bringing new technologies & an innovative Young Adults space into the historic building; 

• On the outside, a glassy connection respects the integrity and object quality of the historic structure, allowing old and new buildings to sit shoulder to shoulder in defi ning the primary edge to a civic park.

5 FIRST U.S. DOUBLE-SKIN CURTAIN WALL OF ITS TYPE

The building’s 180’ long, 42’ high front façade is the fi rst and only U.S. example of its type, incorporating all key ingredients of advanced European double-skin curtain wall technology: 

• 3’-0” deep airspace; multi-story thermal fl ue; and movable 12” sunshades;

• Double-skin wall maximizes patron thermal comfort in reading areas along the glass, introduces signifi cant daylighting deep into the building, and saves energy (50% reduction compared with conventional curtain wall).

6 CELEBRATING THE CITY’S COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE DESIGN

The LEED Silver certifi ed project embodies the City of Cambridge’s progressive approach to sustainability. Key strategies, which benefi t areas beyond the site as well, included:

• Open space enhancements (while library space triples, the park has increased in area by half an acre)  

• 33,000 sf green roof (an intensive type with 4’ of soil to allow tree planting); major double-skin curtain wall (saving energy and introducing abundant natural light and natural ventilation)

• 400,000 gallon neighborhood-wide stormwater management facility (serves a 3-square-mile area)

• Transit options: access to 5 bus routes & major subway/bus station; extensive bike storage spaces; dedicated parking for alternate fuel vehicles.

 

Lessons Learned

ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY

The greatest challenge we encountered on this project was the goal of engaging the wider community in both the design and final integration of the building within the lives of its visitors. To accomplish this, we held nearly 100 public meetings to listen to the needs of the diverse population.

1 CONNECT OLD AND NEW

Through these public meetings, we created a design that seamlessly connects the old and new buildings. This involved rigorous restoration of the historic Van Brunt & Howe building’s exterior and west façade, as well as the reinvention of several renovated spaces so as to adapt the original building to a more modern use. We found that the constraints of the original building allowed for more intimate spaces when contrasted with the openness of the new building.

2 ENGAGING THE CIVIC PARK

Another part of the design we reached through the community process was the preservation of the cherisehd public park site.  The fi nal design includes an underground parking structure that allowed for the complete preservation of the civic park – and a welcoming entrance to the building.  The design locates the ground floor of the new building at-grade with the park, reinforcing the accessibility of both interior and outside spaces.

3 OPEN AND ACCESSIBLE

Finally, discussions centering on creating an open and accessible structure yielded a most democratic building that was incredibly well received by the Library’s over 2,000 daily visitors. We believe this quote from a Library trustee embodies this quality:

“For the first and only time in the lives of most Cambridge citizens, they possess [a gorgeous] space.  The knowledge that this beautiful, high quality construction was built for them makes a statement about democracy that is far more concrete and compelling than anything this city and state have provided before.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Complete
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Land area (in acres): 3
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Parks & green space (in acres): 121100
Project team designers: William Rawn Associates with Ann Beha Architects
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: - 2009