BPL and ICA

September 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

Diller & Scofidio's Boston ICAMcKim, Mead & White's Boston Public LibraryJust back from the Boston field trip, highlighted by a day’s tour of two relevant precedents–the Institute of Contemporary Art on Fan Pier, and the Boston Public Library on Copley Square.  Between these two, we think the idea of a digital media library gets pretty well covered, and these tours are both good chances to see approaches to public space, civic design, and the mechanics of information storage, retrieval, and viewing.

Last year, this group went to Seattle, and many said they had been disappointed by OMA’s Public Library there–poor detailing and difficulty navigating the admittedly provocative organization scheme trumped, for many, the spatial and visual thrills of the place.  ICA presents a different set of problems.  It’s well detailed, for the most part, and it has a great relationship to the waterfront; the main gallery has an auxiliary space that offers views through a double-story glass wall, and there’s an outdoor amphitheater under this cantilevered space that is structurally and spatially amazing.  But students were slightly appalled by the approach (see above).  The building literally turns its back on the city and the approach to get this relationship to the water.  Likewise, the circulation isn’t always intuitive, and it relies heavily on a giant elevator to do the work of moving up and down.

Boston Public is all about civic presence, on the other hand, and it solves a vertical circulation problem with a really elegant main staircase.  The piano nobile approach, derived from Italian palazzi that raised their public rooms above the din and threat of the street, relies on stairs like this that often turn back on themselves to deposit you precisely above the entrance.  It’s entirely intuitive and fantastically well-crafted.  And, of course, impossible to replicate in materials that are affordable today.

So, is it possible to create something as relevant as ICA and as urban as BPL?  Watch this space…

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