1 Boston Public Library

Boston, Massachusetts
Charles Follen McKim , 1895

The Boston Public Library, designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, opened as a “palace for the people” in 1895. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

The lavish Renaissance Revival library drew its influence from several European public buildings, especially the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

Murals by American painter John Singer Sargent anchor an impressive art collection in the library. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

A central courtyard is surrounded by an arcaded gallery – a feature found in Renaissance cloisters. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

The now-iconic green-glass shades at reading tables in Bates Hall Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. McKim was influenced by the building’s Renaissance Revival design. Photo Credit: WikiCommons

The library’s elaborate Beaux-Arts detailing influenced many other civic buildings in the decades that followed. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library

Just across Boston’s Copley Square from H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church sits another National Historic Landmark: the 1895 Boston Public Library building, designed by Charles Follen McKim of the New York firm of McKim, Mead & White.

Intended as a “palace for the people,” the granite Renaissance Revival building, with its grand architecture, cathedral-like reading halls, and lavish art collection, became an influential example of what a civic building could aspire to achieve.

Modeled in part after the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris and other European public buildings, the building celebrated Beaux-Arts style, furthering a neoclassical aesthetic for public structures in America. (When the McKim building was designated by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark in 1986, it was described as “the first outstanding example of Renaissance Beaux-Arts Classicism in America.”)

Inside, murals by John Singer Sargent and sculptures by other notable American artists make the library a destination for art lovers. This artist-architect collaboration (seen also in Trinity Church) became a model for other civic buildings in the decades to come.

A 1972 addition by architect Philip Johnson further sealed the Boston Public Library’s reputation as an important architectural achievement.

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