Harvard Medical School – Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine Renovations

  • area / size 26,000 sqft
  • Completed 2021
  • Shepley Bulfinch designed the renovations for Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

    In light of the shifting role and needs of health sciences libraries, the renovation of Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library transforms an insular, brutalist building into a dynamic 21st century library by reinvigorating the interior experience, transforming its services, and engaging its community.

    Designed by Hugh Stubbins in 1965, the limestone clad monolith was a monument to medical scholarship and research, separated from its surroundings by a sunken plaza. Reflecting outdated ideas about libraries, the interior prioritized physical collections and circulation services, leaving patron space isolated with limited views or daylight. The library felt unwelcoming and static.

    The renovation evolves Countway Library into an active, inclusive and student-focused library. Now a social connector where academia and community merge, accessibility and public engagement are prioritized through a new bridge connection, public plaza and amenities. The first floor becomes the center of activity with various collaborative seating vignettes, café, bookstore, event rooms, and maker space. Enclosed programs are consolidated to allow uninterrupted access to natural daylight. Circulation services are relocated to the lower level closer to the physical collections, while quiet study and staff space are acoustically separated on the upper level.

    Drawing inspiration from brutalism’s honesty of materials and bold scale, the interior design introduces curved, wood-clad forms to counter and soften the limestone-clad interior. Organic textures and biophilic motifs infuse the library with warmth, heightened by the dynamic movement of light in the reflective flooring and ceiling materials. Formerly a somber and siloed space, Countway Library now embodies its mission to support and engage its community with an environment that is full of life and welcoming to all.

    The Countway Library renovation advances the Harvard Medical School campus by incorporating Harvard’s rigorous Green Building Standards for Healthy Materials, Healthier Hospitals initiative for furniture, and supporting the library’s Healthcare Without Harm Initiative.

    Design: Shepley Bulfinch
    Contractor: Lee Kennedy
    Photography: Robert Benson Photography