Library Renovation and Restoration
Established in 1882, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest public library systems in the United States with a distinguished heritage in Baltimore City. The Central Library, finished in 1933, occupies an entire city block in Baltimore’s historic Cathedral Hill neighborhood and welcomes more than half a million visitors each year to its collections. Since 1986, Ayers Saint Gross has worked with the library on projects ranging from planning, programming, renovations, highly sensitive restorations, and additions. The latest commission, an ambitious restoration and renovation of the 87-year-old Central Library, restores the facility to its Art Deco splendor while modernizing it with improved technology and space for community services and events. New spaces enable the library to live out its mission “to provide equal access to information, services, and opportunities that empower, enrich, and enhance the quality of life for all.” This project was completed in association with Beyer Blinder Belle.
As part of the renewal, the limestone and granite façade was cleaned and repaired, steel windows were restored, and new lighting was installed to highlight vertical elements. The revitalized central hall, with a three-story sky lit atrium and terrazzo floors, features restored plaster walls, ceilings, and pendant lighting. Newly installed audiovisual equipment gives it renewed purpose as a town hall. Archival photographs were heavily referenced to guide both the restoration and replication of historic elements.
The original conversation and writing room’s arched window with ornamental ironwork is a striking focal point. Now repurposed as a laptop lounge, the space is occupied with contemporary furniture and public computer stations.
Since opening, the library had undergone utilitarian alterations including the replacement of historic lighting and overpainting of decorative elements. A seamless blend of meticulous restoration and replication honors the heritage of the building. Decorative motifs discovered in ceiling exposure windows were documented and recreated while damaged plaster walls were removed and restored. Reading tables and chairs were restored and outfitted with custom bronze table lamps. Plaster ceilings were restored, and new custom pendant lighting installed.
Additions of steel and glass partitions introduce new programmed spaces, such as classrooms within the job and career center and teen reading and resource room.
New signage designed by Ayers Saint Gross draws inspiration from motifs found in the original building.
Though less visible, the renewal of the library undertook a wide variety of sustainability initiatives. The building is LEED Silver Certified. More than 97% of the existing structural system and opaque building envelope is preserved, while contemporary MEP and glazing systems prepare the Pratt for the next generation of library staff and visitors.