CORE Studio II: Boston Public Library Chinatown Branch

Turning the Corner

I began my study of Boston’s historic Chinatown with a walk. I weaved in and around streets and alleyways and began to catalogue, a bit obsessively, the murals on the walls. Our site, nestled in between the two sides of Chinatown acts as a big squeeze to get people moving from one area to the next. I imagined, whatever it was that I would design there, to be smooth — a challenge to the expected rectilinear city-building. 

And so, a geometric game was born. I began to play with a circumscribed circle that fights against the hard edge of its bounding square. The circle grows, tugs, and pulls with the help of diagonal lines that incorporated from the site’s corner conditions.

In parallel to my geometric exploration, I developed a three-pronged program for the Chinatown branch. My circulation needed to be not only physical, but also more ephemeral and intangible—a circulation of ideas, emotional connections. This library sets out to empower community members through the provision of spaces for access, learning, and making. 

The  ‘access’ wing provides shared social and gathering spaces both in and out-doors. visitors have access to privacy to acquire information and services on legal forms, taxes, immigration, and housing. To provide for the ever changing-potential of space-usage, community members can reserve flexible spaces for specific events and programming. The second key tenant of the Chinatown Branch’s ethos is empowerment through learning. Besides hosting a broad multilingual collection of books, movies, and music, the library emphasizes learning cultural history in both the Boston Chinatown community and beyond. A permanent archival display space will be prominently placed near the first floor entrance and common space to encourage visitors to learn about the efforts of the Chinatown community to organize and fight for change. Learning of all ages will be encouraged through the provision of both language classes and other activities such as dance and arts. Finally, through making, Chinatown branch members have the opportunity to create things to bring back into the community for others to learn from and engage with. 

When sorting my proposed programs from open, light filled spaces to more dark and intimate areas, I was pleasantly surprised to come to the realization that there is no hard and fast rule about which programmatic tenant works best where. In fact, programs often overlapped and became only stronger though that connection. With these overlaps, I set out to complicate my existing geometric tussle of circles and squares. I avoided delineating programatic areas through harsh edges and instead let the noise and light permeate through against the natural boundaries and constraints of the site. After this active process of negotiation both horizontally and laterally (how do I connect things through stairs!) I settled on an organizational logic for my plans.