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02.24.2014
Closing the Chapter on Van Alen Books
Courtesy Van Alen Institute

As the venerable Van Alen Institute enters its 120th year in existence, big changes are coming for its West 22nd Street storefront. The Van Alen Bookstore, which opened in 2011 to the hurrahs of New York’s architectural community, will be closing its doors this spring. Designed by Napoli- and New York–based LOT-EK Architecture & Design, the yellow space housed the city's last remaining bookstore dedicated to architecture and played host to an array of panels and events. In its place will come a new space, designed by Collective-LOK, signaling yet another era in the long history of this admired institution.

"When we began the project in 2010, we thought it represented a really interesting moment for Van Alen,” Ada Tolla of LOT-EK told AN. “The transition from their sixth floor offices to the street level was a reflection of their mission, which is very much focused on the public realm."

LOT-EK made wise use of the small, cubic storefront by focusing on its section and drawing attention down to the street with a set of rough-hewn yellow stairs. Inspired by the iconic Times Square TKTS booth, one of Van Alen’s most successful interventions, the stairs served as seating for both browsing patrons and event attendees. “The stairs were also a reflection of how Van Alen engaged the section at Times Square, which creates a different relationship to the square,” said Tolla. “The idea, at both the square and the bookstore were to demonstrate that dedication to the street."

"It is a little bit sweet and sour for us," continued Tolla. "On one end, it showed us that this experiment worked, as it ended up staying a lot longer than expected. It was also very successful, and the coming change is a testament to that success because it showed Van Alen that they need to be on the ground, in the city."

Executive director David van der Leer's plans for Van Alen include a new storefront design called Screen Play by Collective-LOK, a collaborative team composed of Jon Lott (PARA-Project), William O’Brien Jr. (WOJR), and Michael Kubo (over,under). Winner of the highly publicized Ground/Work competition, the flexible, multifaceted design utilizes an array of screens to create a flexible space to house a variety of future programming. Construction will begin in the coming months.

Nick Miller