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John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library

Boston  Map
1976–79
Lead Designer
I. M. Pei

The design fulfills a complex mixed-use program while remembering the president in a contemporary yet timeless way.

Overlooking Boston, Dorchester Bay, and the ocean beyond, the former landfill site was planted with beach grass to recall Kennedy’s love of the sea. A split-level design organizes museum spaces in a layer below ground, with key emotive elements dramatically isolated above. The building consists of a triangular 10-story tower housing archival, educational, and administrative functions; a two-story cylindrical base containing exhibition space and theaters; and a 110-foot high memorial pavilion, which gives coherence and focus to the whole. A generous stairway meanders around the cylindrical volume and connects the museum to the waterfront.

A 21,000-square-foot waterfront addition, supporting the library’s educational and cultural programs, was completed in 1991.

Show Facts
Site

9.5-acres on Columbia Point, facing across Dorchester Bay to the Boston skyline, to Boston Harbor and further east, to the open sea

Components

Presidential library and museum facility with exhibition spaces, two auditoria, a research center, archives, and administrative offices

Client

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Inc., Columbia Point, Boston

PCF&P Services

Site selection, architecture, exterior envelope, interior design

Awards

Prestressed Concrete Institute Award
Prestressed Concrete Institute, 1980

The Best of Accessible Boston: Commendation Award
Adaptive Environment Center, 1986

To accommodate the museum’s extensive program, the tallest of these discrete volumes houses archival, educational, and administrative functions, while the podium contains exhibition space, theaters, and a generous stairway that connects the museum to the waterfront.
From the darkened setting of the lower exhibition areas, visitors emerge into the sun-filled, silent void of the space-framed glass pavilion. Except for an enormous American flag suspended above, the atrium’s double-height space is starkly empty, allowing viewers time to contemplate their experience against a panorama of sky, land, and open sea.
Project Credits

Exhibit Design: Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, New York, NY; Landscape: Office of Dan Kiley, Charlotte, VT; Traffic / Site: Travers Associates, Clifton, NJ; Images: Nathaniel Lieberman, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Marek Zamdmer/Pei Cobb Freed & Partners