Boston Museum of Fine Arts Library

A proposal for a sunken rare books library for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston’s Back Bay Fens.

The Back Bay Fens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1878 as part of the Emerald Necklace. They were conceived as an urban wild and park, meant to restore a stagnant saltwater marsh that threatened public health. Today, the Fens are enjoyed by Bostonians of all ages for many types of recreation. Immediately adjacent to the park are several leading cultural institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts.

This project brief requires a library to be built within the Fens to accommodate the Museum’s burgeoning rare books collection. In order to meet the spatial requirements of the brief while preserving the walkability of the Fens, this proposal lowers the library partially into the soil. Excavated dirt is heaped up around the perimeter of the building, while the roof is recast as a landscape for park patrons to traverse and enjoy.

Some portions of the roof edge are peeled away from the ground surface to create the library’s entrances. The roof is supported internally by abundant structural bookcases, and periodic structural glass cylinders. These cylinders align with perforations in the roof and foundation that allow light and water to pour in from above and soak gently into the earth below.


Project initiated during Grace La’s Core II GSD studio.