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Main Library Expansion Project Update from September 26, 2002

Following a City Council decision to expand and restore the Main Library Building on Broadway, the City selected William Rawn Associates and Ann Beha Architects as the designers for the project. Alan Burne was appointed by the City Manager to be the Project Director. The Manager advertised for volunteers and selected an 18 member citizen's Design Advisory Committee(DAC) to work with the architects to ensure the very best new library for our city.

The DAC met twice during the summer to develop design objectives for the library building, the site, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), and parking.  Some of their objectives are:

  • A place of pride for the City: a place of surprise, a "wow" building with public art inside and out
  • A library that serves Cambridge citizens
  • A creative balance between old and new
  • A harmonious relationship between the library building and the park
  • Strengthen the relationship between the school and the library
  • Minimize the impact of ramps (for underground parking) on pedestrian traffic within the park

Two studies commissioned by the library and the final report of  the community-based Library 21 Committee recommended a completed library of approximately  90,000 - 100,000 square feet. The current main library building is 42,000 square feet.

Throughout the process, the architects have been guided by the history of the library building, the development of the site, the inter-relationship between the library and the various Cambridge secondary schools that have shared the site, the critical importance of open space to the Mid-Cambridge neighborhood and the service/programmatic needs of the new library.

 

As you can see from the illustrations above, the library/high school site was, and still is, bordered by Felton, Cambridge, Ellery streets, and Broadway. Until 1930, Irving Street connected from Cambridge Street to Broadway. It is clear that the entrance of the Main Library, which was originally located to the far left of the 1889 building front, was designed to be accessed from Irving Street.  When the high schools were merged in the late 1970's, the park that straddled both the front and rear of the library was altered by the addition and extension of the high school.  The demolition of the Latin School at that same time, created an open space on the corner of Ellery Street and Broadway.  An addition to the library in 1967 further disconnected the library entrance from Cambridge Street.

In their analysis of the current site, the project architects have classified "front" and "back" edges of existing buildings.

At the third and most recent fourth DAC meetings and in response to the committee's recommendations,  William Rawn Associates, Ann Beha Architects, and the landscape design firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates presented four possible locations where the expansion could be placed on the current library site.  For purposes of identification these alternatives have been named: West Option, Center Option, East Option, Far East Option. Each option addresses the goals outlined by the DAC and the service needs of the library.  They also include underground parking and the assumption that a tot lot will be located on the site.  In each instance, the design team attempted to minimize encroachment on available open space.

The West Scheme places the addition to the west of the current library, bringing the entrance to Broadway, parallel with the CRLS. The portion along Broadway is three stories high, lower than the adjacent school, while the rear portions next to the historic library building are only two stories high. A porch could be created along the east side, facing the historic library entrance and the park. Entrance to the parking garage would be off the Trowbridge axis, in about the same location as the current entrance to the parking lot.

The Center Scheme places part of the addition to the west of the historic library building, extending beyond the footprint of the existing 1967 wing. A second addition is placed east of the historic library building, with its front face aligned with the front of the historic library. Both additions are three stories high, compared with the two story height of the original building. The drop-off could be located in line with Trowbridge Street and the entrance to the parking garage could be parallel with the tennis courts.

The East Scheme places all of the addition to the east of the historic library building, but stops short of the existing raised tennis courts. It is four stories high in order to provide the area required by the library program within a reduced footprint. The 1967 wing would be demolished, revealing the historic west façade which originally fronted Irving Street and improving the connection between Cambridge Street, CRLS, and the park. The drop-off could be located in line with Trowbridge Street and the entrance to the parking garage could be parallel with the tennis courts.

The Far East Scheme places all of the addition to the east of the historic library building, and proposes to relocate the existing raised tennis courts and underground parking, as well as creating an inviting view into the park when approached along Ellery Street. With a slightly larger footprint than the East Scheme, it is two stories high fronting the open space, and three stories high to the rear. The 1967 wing would be demolished, revealing the historic west façade which originally fronted Irving Street and improving the connection between  Cambridge Street, CRLS, and the park. The drop-off could be located in line with Trowbridge Street with the parking entrance located between the end of the addition and the relocated tennis courts.

In a follow-up meeting and in response to community inquiries, the architects presented an analysis of the current site and the identification of paved space vs. green space.