Boston Public Library McKim Building

Edit profile
Boston Public Library McKim Building
The Boston Public Library McKim Building (built 1895) in Copley Square contains the library's research collection, exhibition rooms and administrative offices. When it opened in 1895, the new Boston Public Library was proclaimed a "palace for the people." The building includes lavish decorations, a children's room (the first in the nation), and a central courtyard surrounded by an arcaded gallery in the manner of a Renaissance cloister. The library regularly displays its rare works, often in exhibits that will combine works on paper, rare books, and works of art. Several galleries in the third floor of the McKim building are maintained for exhibits.

Charles Follen McKim's design shows influence from a number of architectural precedents. McKim drew explicitly on the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris (designed by Henri Labrouste, built 1845 to 1851) for the general arrangement of the facade that fronts on Copley Square, but his detailing of that facade's arcaded windows owes a clear debt to the side elevations of Leon Battista Alberti's Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. The open-air courtyard at the center of the building is based closely on that of the sixteenth-century Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. McKim also exploited up-to-date building technology, as the library represents one of the first major applications in the United States of the system of thin tile vaults invented by Rafael Guastavino of Valencia; seven different types of Guastavino vaulting can be seen in the library.

Murals include recently restored paintings by John Singer Sargent on the theme of The Triumph of Religion; Edwin Austin Abbey's most famous work, a series of murals which depict the Grail legend; and paintings of the Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Architect Charles Follen McKim chose to have monumental inscriptions, similar to those found on basilicas and monuments in ancient Rome, in the entablature on each of the main building's three façades. On the south is inscribed: " MDCCCLII • FOUNDED THROUGH THE MUNIFICENCE AND PUBLIC SPIRIT OF CITIZENS"; on the east: " THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII"; and on the north: " THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY".

The last quotation has been attributed to the library's Board of Trustees. Another inscription, above the keystone of the central entrance, proclaims: " FREE TO ALL". Across the street from the central entrance to the library is a twentieth-century monument to the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran who as a young immigrant educated himself in the Boston Public Library. The monument's inscription responds to the McKim building reading " IT WAS IN MY HEART TO HELP A LITTLE, BECAUSE I WAS HELPED MUCH". The text is excerpted from a letter enclosed with Gibran's generous bequest to the library.

Media

30 photos

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • thmars10
    thmars10 commented
    Woops. I was talking about City Hall and ended up on the BPL which is actually a nice building.
    about 6 years ago via iPhone
  • thmars10
    thmars10 commented
    Literally one of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen. It should at least be turned upside down or not made entirely of concrete.
    about 6 years ago via iPhone