St. Mark’s Bookshop
136 East 3rd Street, Manhattan
Clouds Architecture Office
Clouds Architecture Office is two wonderful architects of international origin and distinction: Ostap Rudakevych and Masayuki Sono. It’s easy to see why the intense and inward duo selected such a multi-valent word to identify their firm. Curiously enough though, their project for the St. Mark’s Bookshop did not in any way darken the nature of retail bookselling—quite substantially just the opposite. The bookstore won an honor award from the AIA New York Chapter Design awards program in 2015.
Archtober-ites witnesses another great example of the resourcefulness of architects dealing with constrained money, space, plumbing, and time. The sinuous wrapping of the entire interior with multi-level shelving built on site was designed and completed in two months. Your best idea is frequently your first idea, and Clouds Architecture deftly wended the sectional idea of shelves canted for maximal visibility into a three-dimensional expression of the continuity of thinking that sets the books next to each other. Slots are cut through the wrapping shelf element to reveal glimpses of worlds beyond: a back yard, the street. And an office is tucked behind the projected diagonal element that creates two separate spaces, but encourages flow between them.
St. Mark’s Bookshop has been in a number of locations since it was actually located on St. Mark’s Place. In the late seventies, it was the intellectual hub of the punk scene in alphabet city, a scene which is now being brought back to life in a number of books, many of which you can buy at the St. Mark’s Bookshop in its latest digs. It was great to meet Bob Contant, the long-time owner. (I don’t think he remembered me from the seventies when clad in an original Ramones t-shirt—my future husband and I would browse his shelves for texts in the critical thinking that underpinned all that great music.)
Contant started working as a librarian, and the selections reveal his determined thinking about what’s important. The continuity of the snaking wall establishes a visual loop, that reminded me of one of my favorite lines from T. S. Elliot: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
It was nice to be back in a new St. Mark’s Bookshop after 38 years! I took Bob’s recommendation and bought I Dreamed I was a Very Clean Tramp the autobiography of Richard Hell, who we saw at CBGB’s with the Voidoids, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Go see this beautiful store, and buy books!
Next stop: Mariners Harbor Branch Library on Staten Island.
Cynthia Phifer Kracauer is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture and the festival director for Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater.