BAC Library History

Submitted by Robert Adams, Directory of the BAC Library and K.H. Kobialka, CA, BAC Archivist

The Boston Architectural College (BAC) was established as The Boston Architectural Club in 1889 by a group of practicing architects, some of whom were members of the Boston Society of Architects (BSA). According to the original charter, the Club was created “for the purpose of associating those interested in the profession of architecture with a view to mutual encouragement and help in studies.”[i] The Club was also envisioned to include not just for architects but also sculptors, painters, and practitioners of the “allied arts.”[ii]

From its roots, the BAC was intended to be a more inclusive group and over time that essential BAC principle has endured and developed as a vital part of the institutional mission. In the early days of the Club, members tended to be practicing architects in Boston firms who partly intended the Club as a venue for the continuing education of younger members of the profession after work hours.[iii] This level of accessibility may have attracted many first- and second-generation immigrants, who often lacked the resources to attend traditional colleges or to travel as part of their education.

The earliest records of a library at the BAC are the bookplates in the oldest books in the collection, which date to 1890. By 1894 regular Club meeting minutes record the existence of a library committee at the BAC.[iv]

Bookplate from 1890. Courtesy of Memorial Library, Boston Architectural College.

In 1895, a bequest of $5,000.00 was made to the BAC by Arthur Rotch, one of the founders of the prestigious Rotch Travelling Scholarship, “for the purchase of books and collections”.[v]  Initially, the library collection was primarily used by Club members. By the 1890s, the Library Committee had begun to consider the use of the Library to support the work of a student atelier. By the end of the 1890s, the library held over 200 volumes. At the start of the 20th Century, the Club Secretary’s report requests that “some adequate provision be made for the stacking and custody of the books, so that they may not only be accessible, but preserved under conditions more conducive to permanent use.”[vi]

Most books in the collection were European at this time, as American architectural publishing was still in its infancy. Some Club members with the means to travel overseas purchased books for the BAC.

During the first twenty years of the BAC’s operation, the Club moved between rented spaces, purchasing a permanent home at 16 Somerset Street in 1910. Library space in these temporary quarters tended to be limited and informal.

No. 6 Hamilton place was an early rented room by the Club and shows bookshelves in the lower right. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

During the First World War, over 100 Club members served in the military.  Sadly, three students died during the war and the surviving Club members chose to dedicate a memorial in their name. The result was the creation of Memorial Library. The paneled walls, shelves, memorial plaque, and fireplace for the new library were constructed under the supervision of Bellows & Aldrich, a local architectural firm that had a long association with the BAC.  The dedication of Memorial Library took place in 1922.[vii]

At that time, the bulk of the books found in the library had come from the architectural office of Robert Swain Peabody, as a bequest from his widow. Over time, other noted architects such as Charles Brigham, Clifford Albright, and William Gibbons Preston, donated volumes.

Memorial Library pictured in the 1930s. The center plaque memorializes George Gordon Kellar, George Henry MacElligott, and Wilfred Edward O’Connor who died in World War One. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

In 1944 the BAC changed its name from the Boston Architectural Club to the Boston Architectural Center. The name change reflected the emerging reality of the BAC as an institution focused more on education than professional membership. The curricular focus, which up to then had been mainly Beaux-Arts (European and Classical) based began to change with the times to become more open to Modernism. The BAC Dean, Arcangelo Cascieri, was an early adopter of Modernist ideas and facilitated the theoretical shift in BAC pedagogy.[viii]

Memorial Library during the 1940s. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

Big changes came to the BAC in the 1960s. What would later turn out to be the last book purchased for Memorial library: Frank Lloyd Wright: drawings for a living architecture capped the collection at around 2,000 books. By 1962, the Center had lost its permanent home at 16 Somerset Street to the State of Massachusetts by eminent domain, in order to make way for the new Government Center.

They found a new location at 320 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Ultimately, it was decided to hold a global design competition for a replacement structure. One of the requirements for the winning design was to include the re-assembly of Memorial Library at the new building. A jury of prominent Boston architectural educators was assembled in order to evaluate the submissions.[ix]

Many of the competition proposals were in the Brutalist style of concrete architecture. The winning design was submitted by Ashley, Myer and Associates. The building opened in 1966 with the reassembled Memorial Library on the top floor.

Boston Architectural Center building, 320 Newbury Street at the time of its completion in 1966. Ashley, Meyer and Associates design. Photograph by George Zimberg. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

At this time, there was somewhat of an ideological split between Memorial Library and what would come to be considered the “main” library of the Center. Memorial Library became non-circulating. Today it is a wonderful special collection that captures architectural education of a certain era and has not been changed in any way that would diminish its unique character.

During the fundraising for the new BAC building, Edward Durell Stone, a BAC alum, and his friend and colleague Alfred Shaw, made a very substantial donation that lead to the lending library being named in their honor. In 1966 this main library space was built adjacent to Memorial Library. At that time architect and former BAC instructor Howard T. Clinch donated a fund in memory of Winthrop D. Parker for the purchase of books in the humanities.[x] Essentially, the Parker memorial fund purchases formed the basis of the BAC’s current lending collection.

In 1974, Susan Lewis was hired as the Assistant Librarian; a year later she became the Library Director, a title she would hold until her retirement in 2018. During Susan’s tenure, she saw the expansion of not only the square footage of the library, but its collection as well.

Susan Lewis 1980. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.
320 Newbury Street sixth floor with the new modern library on the far left and the original open atrium which was eventually covered and incorporated into the library in 1979. Photograph by Louis Reens. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

In 1979, the sixth-floor atrium was covered over and the space was acquired by the library, increasing the space by 1,900 square feet. At the same time the Service for Energy Conservation (SECA) was formed at the BAC, in part via a grant from the National Science Foundation. When the grant was finished, a large collection of solar energy books was incorporated into the main library.

Library floor plan during the 1980s.

The 1990s saw the school incorporate Interior Design (now called Interior Architecture) and Landscape Architecture programs into the curriculum. For accreditation purposes the library acquired books and materials to support these programs. 1990 saw the library go through an additional renovation that allowed it to expand to the entire sixth floor. This further increased the square footage to a combined 5,000 square feet.  In 1995 the main library acquired the book collection of the recently closed The Architects Collaborative (TAC).

Susan Lewis & Sarah Dickinson during the 1990 renovations. By 1991 the Library encompassed the entire 6th floor. Courtesy of the BAC Archives.

The Center saw immense growth in the number of students in the aughts. The library also saw similar growths in its collection. By 2005, the print collection had outgrown its physical space and this required the library to send materials to offsite storage. At that point the collection was around thirty thousand titles with five thousand sent to storage. Each year, the library acquires thirteen to fifteen hundred volumes, which requires the library to send the same amount to off-site storage.  Additionally, in 2005 the BAC hired its first Archivist.  The following year the school once again changed its name from the Boston Architectural Center to the Boston Architectural College to better reflect the fact that we are a degree granting education facility, yet still the BAC.

The research and reading rooms of the BAC Library 2010. Courtesy of Robert Adams.
As the decade came to a close, additional large print collections were incorporated from BAC alum John Howard (2004), a large landscape collection from the Bruck family (2005) and the library from the Landscape Institute, formerly of Harvard (2009.) This brought the library to about fifty thousand titles.

The research and reading rooms of the BAC Library 2010. Courtesy of Robert Adams.

The start of the last decade brought both honors and some challenges to the library.  In 2011 the library was noted during our reaccreditation visit from the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB); we were met with distinction, and received a commends from the Chair. He stated that we were one of the top architecture libraries in the country. This was followed up again with our most recent accreditation visit in 2018 with the review team reiterating his statements.

In 2014, the 2008 recession caught up with the College. The school was forced to consolidate its buildings and this meant that the library had to give up some space for a new classroom. Subsequently, another ten thousand volumes were sent to offsite storage. At that point the library had twenty-three thousand volumes at storage while twenty-five thousand volumes remained on site.

10 thousand volumes were sent to storage to accommodate the construction of a classroom – shaded in white.

New online programs in Sustainable Design, Historic Preservation, Design for Human Health and Real Estate over the last decade saw the library expanding its collection to acquire materials in those respected fields. This includes eBooks, scanning services, and other digital content.

Moving forward, the BAC Library continues to evolve and adapt to the constantly evolving field of design education.  This includes maintaining a library staff presence on both the curriculum and education councils as we revise curriculum and help to create new programs, acquiring more digital content, digitizing our print collections, and mailing library resources to both our domestic and international students enrolled in our distance programs.  Ever flexible, the BAC Library is prepared to continue growing in new directions for the next 130 years.


[i] Boston Architectural Club Charter, December 11, 1889. BAC Archives, RG 035.

[ii] “Architectural Club: It’s Further Organization – Club House Arrangements.” [Boston] Herald, Dec. 1889.

[iii] Taverner. “Here in Boston.” Boston Post, 24 Sept. 1889.

[iv] Boston Architectural Club. Meeting Minutes, 1894-1905. BAC Archives, RG 035.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] “Boston Architectural Club Dedicates Memorial Tablet.” Boston Daily Globe, 26 May 1922, p. 15.

[viii] Arcangelo Cascieri. Oral History recording. BAC Archives.

[ix] Boston Architectural Center. Competition Brief, 1964. BAC Archives, PC 062

[x] Parker Memorial Fund papers, 1966, RG 026: The Dean, Box 34.

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