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Seen/Unseen

The Big Urban Room

Interior of the Big Urban Room at the BPL. Photo: Bruce T. Martin


Seen is the arced wood ceiling — a matrix of curved planes, feathered and in motion — floating over the Big Urban Room at the newly transformed Boston Public Library (BPL). Spanning 180 feet long and 60 feet wide, the ceiling’s sculpted form reshapes and redirects light from the continual glass walls that open the library seamlessly to the city along Boylston and Exeter streets. Its perforated surface absorbs sound from the library’s most active space, which brings together the newest books, interactive digital technology, a café, and a broadcast studio.

Unseen is a powerful absence at the front door — a relocation that has created the space needed for the Big Urban Room. This relocation of the circulation desk 60 feet from the front door is a big deal, embodying the BPL's strong commitment to visitor experience. More broadly, it represents a cultural shift in library services nationwide, challenging the decades-long presumption that a circulation desk (plus its adjacent back-of-house spaces) must be at the front door, a security presence controlling people and collection. Free of this obstruction, the Big Urban Room spreads along the full frontage of Boylston Street, welcoming the city, immersing the visitor immediately into the life and energy of the library. 

Seen and unseen are elements defining a new experience for Boston, the Big Urban Room: active, immersive, welcoming, and open to the street. ■