Plan your visit to this world-famous, three-story, stained-glass globe — one of the key attractions at the Library. The Mapparium’s three-dimensional perspective of the world of 1935 is enhanced by A World of Ideas, an original presentation that features a rich orchestration of words, music, and LED lights to illustrate how ideas have traversed time and geography and changed the world.
The Library is also showing a complementary exhibit, “The Mapparium: An Inside View,” featuring never before made public letters, documents, and artifacts showcasing the construction, history, and significance of this magnificent architectural and artistic achievement.
The Mapparium was conceived by the architect of the Christian Science Publishing House, Chester Lindsay Churchill. Originally called “the Glass Room,” or “the Globe Room,” “Mapparium” comes from the Latin words “mappa” (map) and “arium” (a place for). In the early 1930s, Churchill visited the headquarters of the New York Daily News. There he saw a twelve-foot globe in the lobby. He liked the idea of a newspaper having a globe to indicate its reach and scope and suggested to the Building Committee of the Christian Science Publishing Society that a Mapparium would symbolize the international character and “world-consciousness” of the Publishing Society’s activities. The Mapparium was three years in the making (1932-1935). It opened to the public May 31, 1935, and cost $35,000 (at a time when a Hershey bar cost about five cents), including all labor and materials. Originally, Churchill designed the glass panels to be replaceable as the political boundaries of the world changed. There have been several points in the Mapparium’s history where the discussion of updating the map did arise. The final time was in the 1960s, when it was finally decided that the Mapparium was a priceless work of art and history, and so should never be updated.
A renovation of the Mapparium was initiated in 1998 and took four years to complete. Krent/Paffett Associates of Boston used the “Color Kinetics” lighting system in the exhibit, creating a way to tell stories in the globular space. Kevin Brown of Brown Innovations designed the sound system, solving the problem presented by the Mapparium’s unique acoustics. As the first step in renovation, the entire globe was temporarily covered in plywood while heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems were upgraded. In 1935 the Mapparium was illuminated by about 300 40-watt and 60-watt electric light bulbs placed outside the sphere. Now in their place are 206 LED light fixtures that can be programmed to produce up to sixteen million colors. This programming produces many different effects. For example, an all-blue array causes the continents to recede into silhouette and the oceans to come forward (shifting attention from the geopolitical map to geographic forms). The LED panels are environmentally friendly – left on twenty-four hours a day, they would last for fifteen years. There are now four speakers in the Mapparium, and in place of a window there is a television screen. To clean the glass, a cherry-picker is set up in the middle of the bridge. Workers go out on the machine’s arm and clean each panel with a gentle solution. This happens approximately every five years.
The shape of the Mapparium creates unusual sound effects. Speaking near the center of the room, voices are much louder than usual. This is because the curved glass walls do not absorb the sound waves produced by the voice but reflect them back to the individual. Spherical rooms like the Mapparium are known as “whispering galleries.” Usually these are of the cylindrical type, and the acoustics are fairly simple. The Mapparium, however, is almost spherical, producing a more complex type of acoustics, as well as a very efficient transference of sound. In a spherical space, the sound starting near the center of the sphere returns to the source. Sound waves that originate off-center travel around the sphere and arrive at the opposite end simultaneously. That’s why those at one end of the bridge can hear the whisper of those at the opposite end, loud and clear, while a listener standing in the center (such as on the bridge running through the center of the Mapparium) would hear a much weaker sound than a person on the edge.
Mapparium Photo Gallery