Showcase 2016 Where Are They Now? The Green Engineer's BPL Renovation

By Chris Schaffner of The Green Engineer on 6/1/2017

Boston Public Library  - Johnson Wing Renovation

Winner of 2016 Green Building Leadership Award – Social Equity

Not Just a Green Building, a Symbol of Our City’s Resilience

We were thrilled when the Boston Public Library Johnson Wing Renovation was selected as the winner of the 2016 Green Building Leadership Award for Social Equity. We’re very proud to have been part of a talented team led by William Rawn Architects and the BPL, which transformed what Boston Globe Columnist Yvonne Abraham called  “a dark, hulking, foreboding place” into a vibrant, glowing public space open to the street outside, and the city beyond.   And it was all done while implementing the latest in energy efficiency and green building principles.

The building’s renovation sends a message about the kind of community we aspire to be.  At the very site where forces of ignorance and terror struck it responds with the message that we are not afraid to be an open society, valuing knowledge for all and inviting the community to come together.  As Cliff Gayley of William Rawn Architects put it in a recent interview: 

“There was a very strong directive that the city and the library were not going to react in a defensive way. The City of Boston wasn’t going to cower and hide behind a wall. It was going to remain open and celebrate the values that are at the heart of the city.”

To create this openness and transparency while improving the energy performance of the building required an integrated, iterative design process. The modeling team at The Green Engineer, Inc. worked through multiple iterations of façade and glazing options with the architects to identify design choices that would meet the need for daylight and transparency while still meeting the stringent energy requirements of the project.

The first step was to develop a model of the existing building conditions. This was then calibrated against utility consumption data, so that it accurately represented the library as it existed before renovation work began. Various energy strategies were then tested in the model to determine their relative effectiveness. These included conversion of the MEP systems to VAV, updated lighting and lighting controls, reduced hot water consumption through low flow fixtures, and of course the building envelope improvements. Together these measures are estimated to save the BPL more than $80,000 annually.   Our modeling was also used for calculating utility incentives from our friends at Eversource, and to demonstrate energy code compliance.  

A year after opening, as I reflect on the project, I believe it has achieved the goals that were established. Recently, I had a chance to visit the space and get a cup of coffee. Around me was a cross section of the community, families visiting the new children’s section, students looking for a place to study, tourists seeking information, and immigrants seeking to become citizens, or just find some news from home.  A podcast was being recorded in the WGBH studio incorporated into the renovation. And it was all open to, and integrated with, the life of busy Boylston Street. More than just a place to keep books, the library is a true community gathering space, and one of best civic spaces in Boston.       

Project Statistics: 

  • Opened July 9, 2016
  • 150,000 SF of renovation conducted in two phases
  • $78 million budget
  • Owner: City of Boston, Boston Public Library
  • Owner's Project Representative: PMA Consultants
  • Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc.
  • Contractor: Consigli Construction Corp.
  • Landscape Architect: Reed Hilderbrand
  • Energy Modeler: The Green Engineer, Inc.
  • MEP Engineer: Cosentini Associates

To see more boards and amazing designs like this, attend the upcoming Green Building Showcase on June 15th and consider entering your own project board.

First photo credit to Liz Cerda of The Green Engineer; photos two and three by Bruce T. Martin.

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