The venerable Van Alen Institute is using its tiny ground-level storefront space on 22nd Street to reintroduce itself to the public and counter the loss of the city’s once impressive range of architecture bookstores. The space, which is being built as temporary but could be extended for a longer life, will feature splayed bleacher seating that will extend to the ceiling, along with books for sale as well as a continuous program of events.
Designed by LOT-EK, the bleacher seating will advantage of the small space’s high ceilings, nearly 14 feet tall, to create a memorable architectural element. Made of salvaged, solid wood doors, the stair recalls the iconic red stairs of the TKTS booth in Times Square—the result of a competition spearheaded by the Van Alen—but rendered in a rougher, slightly more haphazard fashion. “We want to evoke the TKTS stairs, which is so important for Van Alen,” said LOT-EK principal Giuseppe Lignano. “But we also wanted to evoke the more guerilla spirit of New York a few decades ago.” The doors, which are all different, will be painted the same color on top, but left rough-cut on the sides. Tops will match the walls and the ceiling, while the undersides will match the floor. Large graphics on the floor and ceiling will be clearly visible through the plate-glass windows. The seating will serve both casual browsers as well as the audience for events.
It is designed to accommodate about 1,000 books for sale, in addition to another 200 to 500 to be made available for study as in a reading room or library. “The space will be highly curated,” said Olympia Kazi, executive director of the Van Alen Institute. “Things will always be changing.”
While the initial focus will be on books, at least for the first six months, Kazi says its role may change over time. “It’s a true experiment. The space will evolve, we’re very open,” she said. Still, she stresses the importance of the bookstore. “We are not reinventing the wheel, we are addressing a need. We have received so much love, so much excitement, about books.”
For the Institute, the project space will also be a chance to raise its profile with the architecture community and the public at large. “The idea is to create a place for books that’s also a place where people want to meet and hang out,” Kazi said. “We’re bringing Van Alen to the street.” The bookstore will open in early to mid-April.