A new chapter for urban readers

By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / August 10, 2011

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Bookmobiles of one sort or another have been around in the United States since the 19th century, but what Sam and Leslie Davol are devising is something else. The husband and wife team, who attracted attention a few years ago when they opened the Chinatown Storefront Library in an unused space on Washington Street, are hard at work on “The Uni.’’ The what? The Uni, a portable open-air reading room designed for cities. If it sounds cool, that’s because it is. Sam Davol, known to indie music fans as the cellist for the band Magnetic Fields, says the idea is pretty simple: sharing books and improving open space. “The Uni really flows out of the experience of the Storefront Library,’’ Davol told us yesterday. “On a nice day like today, everyone would be two blocks away at the park, and I’d think, ‘If this thing was a little lighter, I could close up shop and wheel it over there.’ ’’ The prototype, which will be launched in New York in the fall, was designed by Boston architects Eric Howeler and J. Meejin Yoon (of Howeler + Yoon) and is being built now by MIT grad students James Coleman, David Costanza, and Alexander William Marshall. (It consists of 144 cubes that can be stacked and locked together in different configurations or heights, providing a modular system for programming a public space and creating a venue for books, workshops, public meetings, and small film screenings.) So if it’s conceived, designed, and built in Boston, why is it going to New York? “We would have loved to do it here first. We both grew up in Boston,’’ said Davol. “But Boston’s very practical, and there’s also not the same urban density.’’ That said, if all goes well in New York, they’ll launch Uni Boston next year. “It’ll be Uni 2.0,’’ said Davol.