Shelf Life

[Updated] Hunters Point Library facing maintenance issues after opening

The Steven Holl–designed Hunters Point Library was nearly a decade in the making and opened last month. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Update 10/30/2019: A representative for Steven Holl Architects says that issues with water entering the building and the sprinkler have been resolved. They claim that “the issues that have come up are wrinkles normal to the opening of any new building, especially when the building is receiving such a huge audience,” adding that “reading areas and study desks are continually full.”

Update 10/29/2019: A spokesperson for the Queens Public Library has said that DDC determined that the water was due to a problem with fire sprinkler, which has been resolved. Water also seeped from the rooftop area through a doorway. DDC is addressing both these problems and is working with contractors to repair the cracks in the floor.

The Steven Holl Architects–designed Hunters Point Library in Long Island City, Queens, is already facing troubles, according to the New York Post. Previously under fire for its accessibility issues—the adult fiction stacks could only be accessed via staircase, a feature which met ADA compliance as the library claimed that patrons with limited mobility could ask librarians for help (the books have since been moved)—the building was suspected of leaking (it has been determined to have been both a faulty sprinkler system and an insufficiently weather-proofed door) and has been showing cracks on the floor, some as long as ten feet, just a month after opening.

 In addition, librarians and patrons say there are major sound issues, with floors that “screech” when chairs are moved and a quiet room that is anything but.

Light wood and glass frame stepped book shelves.

The Hunters Point Library has begun moving books after accessibility issues came to light. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Librarians also told the Post that they felt the 22,000-square-foot building, which New York magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson described as a five-story “Seussian obstacle course,” could have made a better attempt at maximizing its usable space for books and other resources, rather than being designed like a “museum or gallery.” Librarians have also reported inadequate visibility within the library. Curbed says that the Queens Public Library system is working with the Department of Design and Construction, who was responsible for the actual building of the library, to address these concerns.

The Hunters Point Library was a much-anticipated addition to the Queens waterfront and is eminently visible from the Manhattan waterfront. Through the project was approved in 2010, construction didn’t begin until 2015 and it opened just this September. Costing approximately $41 million (over $1,800 per square foot), the library was built as part of the Bloomberg-era Design and Construction Excellence initiative, which brought a series of public buildings with serious architectural chops to the city. As Davidson has previously pointed out, they came in often at staggering prices, due perhaps more to government inefficiency and bureaucracy, as well as state rules that require taking on the lowest-bidding contractors, than because of high-flying architectural fees and forward-thinking designs. (Holl himself reportedly told would-be publicly minded architects in New York City to “get ready to lose money, and do it with a smile,” according to Davidson.)

Steven Holl Architects and the New York City Department of Design and Construction have been contacted for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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