STAND ON Boylston Street across from the Boston Public Library — a spot of considerably more emotional weight than ever before — and examine the two buildings that together are the city’s central library. The contrast is striking. To the left is the ornate and lovely McKim Building. Built in 1895, it is massive and delicate at the same time. To its right is the 1972 Johnson Building, simplistic and gloomy. The McKim is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings; the Johnson, one of its ugliest. It’s like evolution running backwards: Over 77 years, we went from good to bad.
In the waning days of his administration, Mayor Tom Menino of Boston has vowed to launch a revamp of the Johnson Building, promising in a recent speech that he’ll replace its granite walls with glass, transforming a fortress that seems designed to repel, like an old-time castle, into an oasis of activity and light that beckons people in.