John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston-Massachusetts - United States, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Construction year: 1979, 1993
Address: Columbia Point | BOSTON-MASSACHUSETTS | United States | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: 42.31626, -71.03419

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the presidential library and museum of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States (1961–1963). It is located on Columbia Point in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, next to the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Massachusetts Archives. Designed by the architect I. M. Pei, the building is the official repository for original papers and correspondence of the Kennedy Administration, as well as special bodies of published and unpublished materials, such as books and papers by and about Ernest Hemingway. The library and museum were dedicated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and members of the Kennedy family.

Kennedy chose a plot of land next to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. The building would face the Charles River which was a few feet away, and on the other side of which, the dormitories that included Winthrop House where Kennedy spent his upperclassman days.

Since Kennedy encouraged his administration to save effects of both personal and official nature, the complex would not just be a collection of the President’s papers, but “a complete record of a Presidential era.” And so, the building would have the word museum appended to its name: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

On December 13, 1964, the Kennedy family announced that I. M. Pei was unanimously chosen by a subcommittee as the architect of the library. Even though Pei was relatively unknown amongst the list of candidates, Mrs. Kennedy, who viewed him as filled with promise and imagination and after spending several months inspecting the many architects’ offices and creations, selected him to create the vision she held for the project. Pei did not have a design yet, but the idea as described by Robert Kennedy was to “stimulate interest in politics.” Meanwhile, the suggestion that Harvard may not be a suitable site for the library had begun cropping up. When asked if Pei may have had to start from scratch, he said this was the case. With an “encouraging grin” Robert Kennedy simply wished Mr. Pei “Good luck.”

Mrs. Kennedy chose Pei to design the library, based on two considerations. First, she appreciated the variety of ideas he had used for earlier projects. “He didn’t seem to have just one way to solve a problem,” she said. “He seemed to approach each commission thinking only of it and then develop a way to make something beautiful.” Ultimately, however, Kennedy made her choice based on her personal connection with Pei. Calling it “really an emotional decision”, she explained: “He was so full of promise, like Jack; they were born in the same year. I decided it would be fun to take a great leap with him.”

Not long before Pei was selected, the $10 million goal set by Black had been reached. By 1965, fundraising was suspended when the contributions reached $20 million.

The new location of the site was Columbia Point in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, near the University of Massachusetts Boston, described as a group of “massive, blocky structures…in sharp contrast to the mellow and urbane atmosphere of the library’s original site near Harvard Square.” The site was originally a garbage dump, Pei recalls finding old refrigerators and appliances under the soil. In all seriousness, he asserted that one could toss a lit match on the earth and watch the ground ignite as the soil emitted methane gas. One thing the site did have going for it was that the community was not opposed to the area being landscaped to house the library.

The design would be a simple geometric structure with a large glass pavilion. The concrete tower stands 38 m tall and houses offices and archives. A circular section contains two theaters and is connected to the tower by the 35 m grey-glass pavilion. The concrete finish of the building directly reflects the budget. With more money Pei would have made the building with stone which he believes offers a nicer finish with more detail. The materials chosen kept the costs within budget, in total costing $20.8 million.

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