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Archive for the ‘The Building’ Category

Distinctive Design
Welcome to the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy Massachusetts. Dedicated in 1882, the original part of this library that now serves 90,000 residents in a city nine miles south of Boston–was designed by America’s first celebrity architect: Henry Hobson Richardson. Fully restored and renovated in 2001 as part of a 16 million dollar library expansion project, this “small masterpiece” is still a working and beloved part of the library–and open to visitors and residents alike. Now listed in GreatBuildingsOnline, the Crane Memorial Library has been voted one of America’s 150 favorite works of architecture.

The Architecture
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Crane Library exemplifies the elements that define Richardson’s style–Richardsonian Romanesque:

“Instead of the narrow vertical proportions and Gothic features used by his contemporaries, [Richardson] favoured horizontal lines, simple silhouettes, and large-scale Romanesque or Byzantine-inspired details. The Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Mass. (1880-82), with its granite base, clerestory windows, tiled gable roof, and cavernous entrance arch, stands among his finest mature works.”

Why it works
“The general form of the building is simplified to one comprehensive shape with a minimum of elements, each of which articulates a particular interior function: window-wall for reading room to the right, entrance arch, tower for a staircase leading to offices behind the second story gable, and raised windows in the stack room to the left. Horizontal lines and bands of brownstone organize the composition. The ornament, though inspired by French Romanesque and Byzantine sources, is broadly scaled and bold rather than archaeological. The walls are a continuous textured surface of quarry-faced granite and brownstone, creating a visual continuity as do the textured shingles in the houses.”- Leland M. Roth. A Concise History of American Architecture. p167-8.

The Building:
Harpers Weekly Magazine called it “the best Village library in the United States”. Architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock called it “an advanced step away from traditional design”. Henry Hobson Richardson, the man who designed it, considered the Crane Memorial Library, opened in 1882, among the most successful and simple of of all his civic buildings.

The people of Quincy just plain love it.

“I don’t think you have to know anything about history or architecture to be affected by how beautiful that building is,” says Library director Ann McLaughlin, who oversaw the 2001 restoration and renovation of this national historical landmark.

Today, three additions and more than 125 years later, the Thomas Crane Public Library’s Richardson Building is still considered one of the country’s finest examples not only of Romanesque architecture, but of design principles that helped transform building styles across the entire American landscape.

“It’s a warm building that radiates a sense of power and permanence that modern architecture doesn’t have,” says Richardson biographer James O’Gorman, who is also a professor of Art History at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Since its dedication in 1882, The Thomas Crane Public Library has grown from Crane Memorial Library–a stately monument to its namesake, the wealthy stone contractor who got his start in Quincy’s granite quarries, to one of the largest regional libraries in Massachusetts.

The expansion of the library happened in three stages, through the efforts and endowment of the Crane family, and the involvement of three distinct groups of architects, library benefactors and trustees that included members of former US president John Adams family, and library staff. Each addition has added historical character to a building that now contains more than two acres of space.

oldlibrary.jpgThe original Richardson Building was made possible in 1880 through a $20,000 bequest from Albert Crane, who wanted the city to erect a public library as a memorial to his father Thomas Crane. The elder Crane, who was born on Georges Island but lived most of his childhood in Quincy Point, took the money he earned in the Quincy granite quarries to New York City, where he married, raised his family, and made a fortune investing in real estate.

Builders for the project were the Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts, whose other construction projects include Richardson’s Trinity Church and buildings at Harvard University. According to company records, Norcross was paid $44,000 to build the Crane Memorial Library, a project undertaken in 1880 and completed in 1882.


As part of the latest addition in 2001, the Boston architectural firm Childs, Bertman, and Tseckares- CBT– also directed the restoration of the Richardson building, repainting the walls, recreating period light fixtures, and restoring the yellow pine woodwork and wide planked floors. Tables and chairs designed by Richardson were restored and put back into use for the public to enjoy.

By the 1930s the Library had again outgrown its building. This time the Crane family helped finance a major addition, designed by Boston and Quincy architects Paul and Carroll Coletti, that more than doubled the size of the Thomas Crane Library. Completed in 1939, and funded in part with a grant from the United States Public Works Commission, the Coletti addition, named the Albert Crane Memorial Wing, matches the style and building materials of the Richardson building, and boasts bas-relief carvings by the well known sculptor Joseph A. Coletti.

Building an addition to a masterpiece like the Thomas Crane Library- widely considered the best of all Richardson’s libraries-is cause for both excitement and trepidation.

“If you are adding a little bit to an old building, you would keep the architectural styles similar,” says lead CBT architect Richard Bertman. “But if you are adding a lot, you are changing the whole character. My sense was that if we tried to be the same” as the Romanesque design of the Richardson and Coletti buildings, the new addition could look like a cartoon copy of the original.

2001 additionWhat CBT did try to preserve were certain signature features of the older buildings, like the red slate roof, the granite foundation, and the decoration around the windows. “Especially in libraries,” Bertman says, “it’s important to honor traditions.”

In January 2002 the library was awarded the Mass Architectural Access Board’s 2001 Honor Award for Accessible Design in Public Architecture. In May 2002 the library received a Massachusetts Historical Commission Historic Preservation Award.

In January 2002 the library was awarded the Mass Architectural Access Board’s 2001 Honor Award for Accessible Design in Public Architecture. In May 2002 the library received a Massachusetts Historical Commission Historic Preservation Award.

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