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The Boston Globe



Fixing the fortress on Boylston Street

The Johnson wing of the Boston Public Library seriously needs some love. Designed by the architect Philip Johnson and opened in 1972, the monumental structure on Boylston Street — once heralded as a bold Modernist statement — has fallen in the public esteem, especially compared to the classical 1895 main library designed by Charles Follen McKim. Hulking, barren, and closed off from the street by a barricade of 97 vertical granite slabs, or plinths, the unwelcoming façade of the Johnson wing today mocks the spirit of the library’s inscribed motto, “Free to All.”

The interior of the building is little better. Once inside, library patrons are immediately confronted with a phalanx of metal detectors. The windows that peek above the granite slabs are tinted, adding to the gloom. Sightlines are blocked by huge stone walls; there is no hint of how one connects to the McKim wing. “The building is unloved because it doesn’t open itself up to the city,” says architect William Rawn, whose firm has been commissioned to fix what ails the Johnson. “Its stance is essentially anti-urban.”

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