A Visit to the Thomas Crane Public Library

May 20, 2015

Catalano Architects derives much of its inspiration and creative problem solving from great triumphs of the past. However, there is also much to learn from those projects not as dearly held. Quincy Massachusetts, mere miles from the heart of Boston, holds many architectural gems that act as historical monuments of rich culture and aesthetic charm. The Thomas Crane Public Library gives us a unique perch from which we can view the evolution of a library – from its creation in 1882, to an addition in the 1930’s, and finally to the most recent addition in 2001.

The first portion of the library was designed by one of the world’s most beloved architects, Henry Hobson Richardson, more commonly known as H.H. Richardson. Trained in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Richardson developed the style known as Richardson Romanesque. The Richardson Romanesque style is characterized by its distinct arches, deep covered entries, massive and rich rustication with granite and brownstone (quarried locally in Quincy), and large stretches of blank walling interspersed with bands of deeply set windows and cylindrical towers with conical roofs - all of which gives a sense of mass and permanence. Though the Thomas Crane Public Library is one of Richardson’s simpler examples of Romanesque architecture, it is also lauded as one of the finest in the country.

The interior of the Richardson wing emanates a powerful sense of warmth and richness, which one does not need a degree in design to appreciate. It features robust and varied woodcarvings, meticulously crafted. Carvings like these are no longer found in even the wealthiest of traditionally styled homes. Viewing these carvings, along with the massive fireplace and stained glass clerestory windows worthy of a museum exhibition, it’s easy to see why the library is treasured by history as one of Richardson’s finest works.

The first addition to the library, designed by local architects Paul and Carol Coletti, more than doubled the size of the Richardson wing. The task of adding so much to a masterpiece that was built to stand alone is daunting, and attempting to copy the distinct Richardson style may be considered reckless by some. The Coletti addition does mimic the Romanesque styling, but a closer look reveals an assortment of important differences that give away its imitated nature. The rusticated stone feels flat and manufactured and suffers from efflorescence, the windows are comparatively massively oversized in an attempt to bring more light to the interior, the entry is shallow like a puncture to a thin wall, and the tower at the entry feels a bit underdeveloped and tacked on. The detail of the addition was also underdeveloped as the original detail of the Richardson wing would have been exorbitantly expensive to replicate at the time.

The most recent addition to the library once again doubled the space of the two existing parts and was designed by the famous Boston based firm Childs Bertman Tseckares (CBT). In viewing the addition, it is immediately evident that the firm realized the trouble of attempting to reproduce the character of the Richardson design. CBT opted instead to complement the original building by preserving some of its signature aesthetic and following a different execution. The red slate roof tiles, and massive rusticated granite base are just a couple of ways in which CBT tried to relate to the Richardson and Coletti building without making it look like a caricature.

We highly recommend a visit to the Thomas Crane Public Library. It is a worthwhile venture to discover the space using your own senses and to observe the differences for yourself - to experience one of architecture’s greatest successes and also learn from its trials.

For more information and history on Henry Hobson Richardson and the Thomas Crane Public Library, check out the following resources:

https://hhrichardson.wordpress.com/

http://thomascranelibrary.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Hobson_Richardson

Posted In: