Boston Public Library, Johnson Building

Boston, MA
Key Elements
  • Complex site issues on an extremely tight site 
  • Groundwater recharge system to protect structural pilings 
  • City of Boston permitting 

As a vital part of the community, the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and one of the City of Boston’s most popular tourist attractions, the first public municipal library in the United States (constructed in 1888) knew that improvements to its Central Library needed to be carefully planned and executed. In 2013, the Boston Public Library began reinvigorating the Johnson Building, the more modern half of the historic facility. The updated design focused on making space not just for books, but for people, by transitioning from an inward-facing fortress to an inviting public space. 

To help meet this goal, Nitsch applied innovative engineering techniques on a heavily trafficked site on the corner of Boylston and Exeter Streets. The key civil engineering challenge was to solve multiple complex issues within a very small site, all while keeping the library open and accessible to the public.  

Because the project is in Boston’s Groundwater Conservation Overlay District (GCOD), groundwater recharge was critical to the success of the project. Nitsch designed drainage improvements that include slot drains around the building perimeter and an underground recharge system sized for surrounding sidewalks, and worked with the landscape architect to integrate porous pavement into the streetscape.  

We designed site utilities and grading improvements, and permitted the project with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, City of Boston Public Improvement Commission, and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Key Collaborators

Owner: City of Boston 
Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects 
Landscape Architect: Reed Hilderbrand