Mary Cripps
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Boston Public Library

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Boston Public Library's McKim building with the campanile of Old South Church to the right.

The Boston Public Library is the largest municipal public library in the United States and was established in 1848. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States and the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials. The Boston Public Library is also the library of last recourse of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; all adult residents of the state are entitled to borrowing and research privileges, and the library receives state funding.


In 1888, Charles Follen McKim, of the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, was engaged to design the new building, opened in 1895. This building included a children's room, the first in the nation and a sculpture garden in its central courtyard surrounded by an arcaded gallery in the manner of a Renaissance cloister. To Copley Square the library presents a fašade reminiscent of a sixteenth century Italian palazzo (illustration, top). The arcaded windows of its fašade owe a debt to the side elevations of Alberti's Tempio Malatestiana, Rimini, the first fully Renaissance building. McKim also drew on the Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve in Paris (1845 to 1851). McKim did not simply imitate his models, however; the three central bays are subtly emphasized without breaking the rhythm. The library also represents one of the first major applications in the United States of thin tile vaults by the Catalan master builder Rafael Guastavino. Seven different types of Guastavino vaulting can be seen in the Boston Public Library.

Bates Hall

Bates Hall has a coffered ceiling in a wide catena-arched barrel vault. Internet and power connections are discreetly placed under the large wooden research tables Bates Hall is named for the library's first great benefactor Joshua Bates (1788-1864). Boston Globe writer Sam Allis identified "Bates Hall, the great reading room of the BPL, vast and hushed and illuminated with a profusion of green lampshades like fireflies" as one of Boston's "secular spots that are sacred." [8] The form of Bates Hall, rectilinear but terminated with a hemi-circle on each end, recalls a Roman basilica. A series of robust double coffers in the ceiling provide a sculptural canopy to the room. The east side has a rhythmic series of arched windows with light buffered by wide overhanging hood on the exterior. Heavy deep green silk velvet drapery installed in 1888, and again in the 1920s and 1950s was not recreated in the 1993 restoration of the room. The drapery helped to mufffle sound and lower light levels.

Courtyard of the McKim building looking north.



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