Over the past twenty years, I’ve been involved in construction of more than 20 public libraries, and I’ve been known to fly off to Seattle to look at new public libraries simply because I love the intersection of libraries and architecture. I’m convinced that the design of a public library says more about a society than anything else a community ever does. A Town Hall is about drudgery and paper pushing. A police station that doesn’t resemble a fortress is never going to serve its purpose. A public school that exists at all is a reflection of lack of constitutional understanding. But a library is a building about what the community stands for, and how it sees itself and where the community is going, and what kind of risk its going to take and why it should be taken seriously. A soaring mind isn’t going to happen under a nine foot ceiling and the freeing of the soul isn’t going to happen in a brick box.
One of the real problems in New England has been busting out of old paradigms. Folks who believe that a library should reflect an 18th century style simply because the town is old miss the point that those 18th century buildings were considered innovative design when first built. I’ve had a chance to see a number of towns wrestle with the factions of traditionalists and innovators, and frankly no town and no architect ever did a better job than the town of Bolton and Drayton Fair.
So, for the first time, I’m really excited about Framingham’s new McAuliffe Branch Library, which selected iconic and modern design over a stuffy brick pile. This library just has to invoke flight in the same way as the National Air and Space Museum does, and it succeeds. There is no better way of proving that than the comments from people who just don’t get it and what the architect is trying to say. I love the quotes from people who suggest it should be a squat building with a statue, the kind of folk who will never understand how architecture moves and inspires people and reflects its community. Yeah, a town which rejects a fat farm in favor of mcmansions probably should have a stuffy public library, but there is hope that this isn’t going to happen. What a job well done.