The Bronx-based Concourse House, a transitional shelter for women with children under nine years old, has received a new children’s library courtesy of New York’s Michael K. Chen Architecture (MKCA). Instead of a traditional book nook, MKCA has installed an illuminated, elongated library and a reading area below the shelter’s dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Concourse House: Home for Women and Their Children was founded in 1991 as both a shelter and resource center for families who are transitioning out of homelessness. Because Concourse House primarily works with families who have children, the library was a welcome addition.

“The love of books and of reading is something that defined my own childhood, and that of everyone on our team,” said MKCA founder Michael Chen. “The space for imagination and for reflection that books afford is such a gift, especially for kids who don’t currently have a permanent home, or might not have a space of their own. It’s a privilege to work with Concourse House to make the library a reality for such a deserving group of children.”

MKCA placed the library and slatted bookshelf on the mezzanine of Concourse House’s soaring multipurpose space, allowing light from the space’s ample windows to filter through to the reading area. The rounded edges of the timber bookshelf both slot into and reference the building’s vaulted ceiling.

The new library overlooks the staid multipurpose room, where the bookshelf acts as a diffuse divider.

The new library overlooks the staid multipurpose room, from which the bookshelf acts as a diffuse divider. (Alan Tansey/Courtesy MKCA)

Whereas the multipurpose space below is a stark white, MKCA used color in the children’s library to differentiate it from the shelter’s more institutional spaces. An assortment of soft poufs in red, blue, and green pastels was used for the library’s seating and can be stored in their accompanying shelves to act as backrests for children who sit on the ground. A room-spanning plush carpet in a wild variety of colors drew inspiration from the shape of the other elements in the library for its rounded pattern.

The project was completed pro bono, and through the help of small donators. The library was filled with 1,200 books through Sisters Uptown Bookstore in Washington Heights, while MKCA solicited donations from designers, fabricators, suppliers, and contractors to complete the project.

The studio also worked to coordinate a charity auction for the shelter, where design objects, furniture, and lighting will be sold through Paddle8.com from December 4 through 18.

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