Architect: Zimmerman Architectural Studios
Owner: City of Marshfield/Marshfield Public Library
Contractor: The Boston Company
The new Marshfield Public Library meets the changing needs of today’s library by creating an array of inviting places and means for people to engage in the library’s rich offerings. Linked by a new shared lobby to the former library, which will be converted into a community center, the project transforms a piece of the urban fabric that was severely damaged in the twentieth century, reintegrating the adjacent historic neighborhood and main street and providing a gateway from the new Veterans Parkway. The new building also transforms and expands the architectural vocabulary of the existing building to create a coherent complex with a civic presence and inviting, humane scale.
The site occupies a full block along Maple Avenue, one block east of Central Avenue, Marshfield’s intact historic main street, and just west of the historic Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Maple Avenue serves as a transitional zone between these districts. Historically it contained a mix of residential and civic buildings, including churches and the former city hall southwest of the library. But as the 20th century progressed, more and more buildings along Maple were replaced by parking lots, including the library’s, which was paved from building to sidewalks’ edges.
North of the site, Veterans Parkway, recently built along a historic rail corridor, provides a civilized vehicular approach to the city that avoids the pitfalls of earlier arterials and urban freeways. This moderate-speed parkway includes naturalized areas and a multi-use trail along its south side, though a rail line and some utilitarian industrial buildings remain to the north. Maple Avenue provides the first of three vehicular entrances to the downtown.
As much as possible within its scope, the project reconnects Central Avenue and the Pleasant Hill neighborhood in a more pedestrian friendly manner, while creating a civic landmark at the entrance from Veterans Parkway. The new library anchors the northwest corner of the site with a dramatic corner and rhythmically composed facades behind lawns along the streets. The existing building anchors the southeast corner adjacent to the neighborhood. The still-necessary parking lots that occupy the opposing corners are tamed for pedestrians by landscape along the sidewalks, while generous new garden zones flanking the buildings provide attractive walks to the mid-block lobby that links and mediates in scale and elevation between old and new.
The existing mid-century library building has some attractive features. Originally, two too-low support zones flanked a vaulted clear-span reading room with generous clerestories at the north and a delightful grouping of angled stone walls and windows at the south. However, from the beginning some support zones and meeting spaces were in a windowless basement. Later, the footprint was doubled; the section was extruded further, the nearly windowless low zone wrapped around the north end, and the north clerestory necessarily shortened. As a result, the original south end arguably provided the only truly inviting space in the old library.
The new building takes elements from the vocabulary of the existing, but transforms them to create better scale, a more civic presence, and many more attractive, daylit spaces. The new building’s two stories give it a scale in keeping with the traditional downtown and provide windows on all sides. The “lower” support zone is increased in height on both floors, and moved to the north and west facades. This allows a gable-roofed volume, rotated 90 degrees, to be opened to the south through a series of tall windows. At the northwest corner, angled stone walls and glazing under an upswept roof create a new quiet reading area inspired by the original, but with a greater variety of seating options. A new children’s program room below this space also benefits from the configuration.
Other details support the creation of varied attractive spaces. The west wing extends south of the central gabled volume, creating a zone with windows on three sides in a children’s play area on the ground floor and in the local history room above. Clerestory windows grace the north and west wings on the upper story. Seating areas along the south wall enjoy a view back to the old city hall.
Photos: C&N photography, Inc.