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Boston Public Library


Some photos and some poor captions from my visit to Boston Public Library on the way to Maine last summer. French-American architecture at its best, with some Italianesque frescoes in the interior.

Boston Public Library has the third largest book collection in America. Designed by McKim, Meade and White architects, its construction finished in 1895.
The architects of BPL followed the blueprint of Ste Genevieve scrupulously. Just like Ste Genevieve’s, the exterior walls of BPL are inscribed with the names of selected authors whose works are in the library’s collections. This is an example of “architecture parlante” – an architecture that announces the function of the building simply through its form – in this case, the walls of the library become a sort of a catalogue themselves.
However, you cannot mistake this building for Bibliotheque Ste Genevieve – an American flag, one of the five, puts on the building a mark of Americanness.
The rectangular courtyard creates a ‘dip’ within the urban fabric. You can see the skyscrapers and tall buildings surrounding the library, yet you are sheltered from the noise of the city in this tiny slice of paradise.
People sitting at tables are protected from the rain but can still hear the hum of the fountain and enjoy the greenery.
The courtyard regularly holds events such as small concerts and book readings.
I was lucky to arrive at the library just before an 11am art and architecture tour around the building was starting. The tour guide was knowledgeable – though he definitely talked about the Italianesque frescoes for way longer than I could stay attentive for.


The interiors of the Library are rich in decoration and expensive materials. The walls on the right have been covered by Italianesque frescoes. The arcade on the left is composed of ornate Corinthian columns made of marble. Elaborate chandeliers light up the corridor.
The main reading room has an intricate coffered ceiling. Large windows let in a fair amount of light; on top of that, desks are equipped with green lamps that add a bit of colour to the room.


It was a warm and sunny day, and resting under the masonry ceiling cut off from the noises of the city was just the perfect way to regenerate before continuing my journey to Maine.


At the time of my visit, the exhibition on display was “America Transformed. Mapping the 19th Century”.
This was just the perfect topic for a geography student (like me). The power of maps, as we learn early on, lies not only in their capacity to give us directions on a holiday road trip. Maps have always shaped the way we see the world – as well as reflected their makers’ perceptions of reality. They set out boundaries, give places names, and show spatial patterns (demographic, economic, land use…), impacting the way we see the land.
The Library consists of two parts: the old building and the new. The new part has a variety of functions – aside from holding part of the book collection, there is a library cafe situated right next to a real radio recording station. Customers and library users can see radio presenter in actions during their visits.
A large staircase leading up to the reading rooms has in the past been used to host an orchestra concert. This shows the diversity of functions that libraries fulfil in contemporary cities.



Semester 1 – in pictures

I merged a bunch of stock images into a collage that partly describes the visual impression of my first semester, year three. Just because I like it when things are visual – that’s right, visual, not quantified – and I like to reflect on my time on Earth. I find it quite therapeutic.

The ‘quantified’ reference is due to that I just read a chapter on the quantitative revolution in geography and the systems analysis method in physical geography, and I was shocked how much someone wanted to push geography onto the wrong track (didn’t say that, Burton 1963). Now, onto paradigms.

Semester 1 Year 3

Gothic spires

In the past, I used to despise Gothic spires. When introduced to Gothic Revival in an architectural history course in first year, I would look at AWN Pugin’s “Contrasted Towns” and grimace. What he was saying did not match up at all to what I was thinking – the high-reaching Gothic spires were not signposts of divine presence to me. Instead, they were unnecessarily pointy, and a waste of stone, really. Symbols of inequality rather than good spirit. The city’s skyline resembles a value chart rather than a happy, hippy, ordered place.

And that’s no good sign.

Contrasted Towns in Contrasts by AWN Pugin
“Contrasted Towns” by AWN Pugin, 1836.

All respect from me to him, though, for condemning classicism and neoclassicism and all that Greek Revival going on in other parts of the country. But saying that the bottom picture shows a dehumanised city and the top one – an exemplary environment for a society to thrive? I will not take that.

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“Is Gothic really the cradle of capitalism?!”
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Some unauthorised value graphs off of the internet. (This one looks like New York City).


Where I was going with this, though, is somewhere else. 

Walking back home today after my last class finished (I was going to move to a coffee shop and work on my essay, since the weather was perfect and I got a free hot drink voucher, but exactly because of the weather my feet were wet and cold and I went home instead), I realised that unwittingly I measure the distance I yet have to go by the Gothic spire that sticks out of the local golf course. Then I came to realisation that this year I live practically next to a church.
A church that is still a church, but less of a church than more.
If you know Edinburgh a fair bit, you’ll know that there’s plenty of churces dotted around the city, especially within a 2-mile-ish radius from the centre.
Not all of them are still churches. (For example, the one temple in Infirmary Street is
the Estates Department of the University of Edinburgh).

And then I decided that I actually like this spire.
But I don’t think that’s because it’s Gothic. It’s because it tells me that that’s where
home is. Everybody looks out of the window on the plane when they’re approaching their home airport. That’s my window for here. Looking out for the Gothic spire.

Gothic is a sign of home.


… but a spire looks best when it’s cloudy and rainy. Not only does it bring the noir urbanism kind of vibe, but the spire looks like it’s up to something mischievous. And that something is reaching up to the clouds to rip them open and have them pour down even more rain. Or blood? Do clouds bleed? …