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Reading Staircase
The terraced seating area provides an open flexible space for reading or events.
Courtesy TEN Arquitectos

Only months after releasing Foster + Partner’s plans for the controversial renovation of its Main Branch on Fifth Avenue, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has unveiled TEN Arquitectos’ design for the 53rd Street Library, which will stand on the former site of the much beloved Donnell Library.

In the last few years, scarce funding coupled with substantial operating costs has compelled the NYPL to rejigger its branches. In some cases, this has meant closing, downsizing, or merging locations. But beyond financial constraints, the Library faces a greater and even pricklier challenge that puts into question the role of the institution: how to best serve the public at a time when demands and needs are changing. In an attempt to function both as a traditional resource for scholarly endeavors as well as a venue for community events, the NYPL is trying to adapt and re-imagine the spaces these libraries inhabit.

Section through the library staircase.
 

“Libraries are evolving, or need to, into something else,” said Andrea Steele, managing partner at TEN Arquitectos. “We realized first and foremost that it had to be a public civic space.”

It has been five years since the Donnell Library closed its doors. In 2008, NYPL sold the property to Orient Express Hotels, which had planned to build a hotel along with space for the new library, but then abandoned the project when the economic crisis hit. Now Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital own the property and have committed to carving out room for the library at the base of a 50-story hotel and residential development.

 

The new $20 million, 28,000-square-foot branch—a significantly smaller space than the original Donnell Library—will take up three levels, two of which will be underground, and house a number of flexible communal spaces, along with a children’s area, an auditorium, a computer lab, and an audio-video collection. The downsizing accounts for the reshuffling of several collections, such as the Centralized Children’s Room and the World Languages Collection, which were previously located at Donnell and have since been moved to other branches.

“The librarians’ approach was to move some of the collections originally at the Donnell, which didn’t fit together in the first place, to locations which would be more convenient for the users of those collections,” said Dave Offensend, Chief Operating Officer of NYPL.

Library-goers can currently find the Media Collection at the Library for the Performing Arts and the World Languages at the Mid-Manhattan Library, which will eventually be merged with the flagship branch.

 

With most of the library located on subterranean levels, TEN Arquitectos set out to create what Steele describes as a “light and airy experience” that assuaged “everyone’s concern that their cultural institution had been relegated to a mall, and worse, a basement of a mall.” The firm accomplished this by creating a glass frontage through which light filters into an open terraced seating area that will be used for a variety of activities, such as special events, reading, or gathering.

“The stepped landscape and open plan will create a gradation of public and private spaces for reading and studying,” said Steele. “The light and sound will intuitively tell you how to behave.”

The space will be a mix of concrete and glass, featuring minimal touches such as perforated metal panels cladding the walls. “All the materials are very modest in their actuality, but we wanted them to be experientially rich.”

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Architecture Writers Honor Huxtable with Letter Critical of Foster's NYPL Renovation
A group of prominent architecture editors and critics, including AN's William Menking, have written a letter to the New York Public Library (NYPL) protesting the proposed renovation by Foster + Partners, under the banner of the "Huxtable Initiative." The letters requests that the NYPL's Board of Trustees reconsider the current plan to remove the library's massive iron and steel stacks for a new atrium and reading room "before such an irreversible decision is made." Letter to the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library February 4, 2013 The late Ada Louise Huxtable’s last essay (Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2012) criticized the New York Public Library’s plan to remove its seven stories of stacks in the main branch at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue to make room for a circulating library designed by Foster + Partners. While she had not been able to convince the library to show her Foster’s scheme by that date, Huxtable contended that the 19th-century iron and steel stacks were an important engineering feat and should be preserved. Now Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic for the New York Times, argues on the front page of the newspaper (January 30, 2013) that the schematic design Norman Foster presented on December 20, 2012 has “the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall,” and is an “awkward, cramped, banal pastiche of tiers facing claustrophobia-inducing windows.” He further questions a plan where the budget of $300 million keeps rising, and asserts that the trade-off in square feet simply does not make a strong case for proceeding. We architecture writers, editors, critics, and historians urge the trustees of the New York Public Library to reconsider their plans for the 42nd Street building. The library’s lack of transparency in involving the public in its planning process angered Huxtable, as it has us. We, like Kimmelman, are convinced the proposed intervention would do much to damage the architectural character and experience of Carrère and Hasting’s magnificent Beaux Arts landmark. The scholars among us do not object to the public or to teenagers sharing this space. But considering all the trade-offs, the library should seriously reconsider renovating the 40th Street branch for a circulating library where Foster’s talents could be used more appropriately. Why is the board of the New York Public Library in such a rush that it remains deaf to the well-publicized misgivings of so many in the community? Before such an irreversible decision is made, we ask the board to stop and open the proposal affecting such a significant public institution to significant public discussion. Thomas Bender Mosette Broderick Rosemarie Bletter Elisabeth Broome Martin Filler Joseph Giovannini Carol Krinsky Mark Lamster Paul Makovsky Cathleen McGuigan Mary McLeod William Menking David Morton Victoria Newhouse Joan Ockman Clifford Pearson Mildred Schmertz Suzanne Stephens Carol Willis Gwendolyn Wright
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Unpacking the Stacks
Courtesy Foster+Partners

When the New York Public Library first announced plans for an estimated $300 million overhaul of its flagship branch, the grand Beaux Arts-style building on Fifth Avenue, protests ensued from scholars, writers, and ordinary users who regard the institution as a sacred resource for research and learning. In December, Foster + Partners revealed the designs for this controversial renovation, which would re-locate millions of books and open up to the public a section of the library previously occupied by stacks. The plan calls for a merger of the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Innovative Science, Industry, and Business Library (on Madison at 34th Street) into the renovated flagship building on 42nd Street. As part of the process, NYPL will transfer approximately 3 million books to a humidity-controlled chamber beneath Bryant Park, then send the remaining 1.2 million books to an off-site location in New Jersey.


 
 

The New York Public Library sees the renovation as an effort to alleviate high operating costs, which a spokesperson says could loosen up “$15 million dollars more to spend annually.” But critics are skeptical. In a letter addressed to NYPL President Anthony W. Marx, a group of 750 signers voiced concern about the renovation—pointing out that budget cutbacks and staff layoffs in the last few years already have impaired the services of and access to research materials in libraries across New York City:

 “NYPL will lose its standing as a premier research institution (second only to the Library of Congress in the United States)—a destination for international as well as American scholars—and become a busy social center where focused research is no longer the primary goal,” the opponents warned. “Books will be harder to get when they’re needed either because of delays in locating them in the storage facility or because they have been checked out to borrowers.”

In spite of the objections, NYPL stands behind its plan to transform what the institution describes as the “underutilized” library Carrere and Hastings created into “The People’s Palace.”

The designs unveiled by Foster + Partners will remove seven floors of stacks under the grand Rose Main Reading Room to make way for a workspace with an expansive atrium, vaulted ceiling, balconies, bookshelves, and new areas devoted to classrooms and computer labs. Without the stacks, the floor-to-ceiling windows will let in light to the space and provide views of Bryant Park. As of now, interior finishes will include a combination of bronze, wood, and stone.

 

Even with strong opposition to the renovation, the New York Public Library is forging ahead with it plans and making progress. In January, The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the library’s application for changes to its Beaux-Arts exterior, mostly on the side facing Bryant Park, in a six-to-two vote.

New York Public Library and Foster + Partners are choosing their words carefully as they try to alleviate concerns about the changes and reassure critics that the renovation will honor and maintain the mission of the library and respect the historic structure of the flagship branch.

“Our design does not seek to alter the character of the building, which will remain unmistakably a library in its feel, in its details, materials, and lighting. It will remain a wonderful place to study,” principal Norman Foster said in a statement. “The parts that are currently inaccessible will be opened up, inviting the whole of the community—it is a strategy that reflects the principles of a free institution upon which the library was first founded.”

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When New York's East River Froze Over
It's been a mild winter so far in New York, and with the first onset of below-freezing temperatures, city folk are donning their heavy jackets and gloves. And while the winds whipping around the glass and steel towers of Manhattan might feel as if it's as cold as it's ever going to be, consider a century ago when temperatures were low enough to freeze the East River from the banks of Brooklyn to the Manhattan waterfront, still two different cities at the time, providing thrill-seeking pedestrians with an instant new crossing years before the Brooklyn Bridge was built. The above view was engraved in 1871 and titled, "Crossing the East River on the Ice Bridge," depicting dozens of New Yorkers walking across what would normally have been a busy maritime thoroughfare. While such a natural feat seams unlikely today, Gothamist has collected clippings to show that the phenomenon was known to occur around once a decade on the East River during the 19th century and there have been reports of similar frozen-river bridges along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as well. For instance, in 1851, an estimated 15,000 pedestrians, horses, and sleighs crossed the frozen river.
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Foster's Exterior Changes Green-Lighted at the New York Public Library
Preservationists who have waged a battle against Foster + Partners' planned renovations of the New York Public Library received bad news Tuesday: The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the library’s application for changes to its Beaux-Arts exterior, mostly on the side facing Bryant Park, in a six-to-two vote. The $300 million renovation calls for removing seven floors of stacks beneath the famous Rose Main Reading Room to accommodate a large workspace and the collections from the Mid-Manhattan and the Innovative Science, Industry, and Business Libraries. This might be a major step forward for the library, but the approval process is not yet over. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Landmarks Commission can only vote on changes proposed to the landmarked exterior—the decision about the stacks is out of their hands.
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Gallery> AIA Honor Awards 2013 - Architecture
[Editor's Note: This the first in a three-part series documenting the winners of the AIA 2013 Honor Awards, which are broken down into three categories: architecture, interiors, and urban design. This list covers the architecture awards, but additional segments spotlight winners in interior architecture and urban design.] The American Institute of Architects has announced the 2013 recipients of the Institute Honor Awards for Architecture. The list is comprised of a range of projects from across the country, including the new building housing The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, a centralized operations facility for Mason Lane Farm in Kentucky, the exterior restoration of The New York Public Library, and the Vancouver Convention Center. The eight-person jury that selected this year’s AIA Architecture Honor Award winners included: Mary Katherine Lanzillotta, Hartman-Cox Architects; Brian Fitzsimmons, Fitzsimmons Architects; John Kane, Architekton; William Leddy, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects; Philip Loheed, BTA Architects; Robert Maschke, robert maschke ARCHITECTS; Douglas L. Milburn, Isaksen Glerum Wachter; and Becky Joyce Yannes, Drexel University. The AIA will honor the recipients at the AIA 2013 National Convention and Design Exposition in Denver in late June. Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop Goshen, Kentucky From the AIA Jury:
We were taken by how this typology was architecturally rendered with very modest materials that were well crafted and thoughtfully considered throughout. The simple, regionally inspired forms are transformed by their uniquely composed skins of weathered bamboo and commodity metal siding.
More coverage from AN. Art Stable Olson Kundig Architects Seattle From the AIA Jury:
This is an important everyday building type that sits quite nicely in its residential neighborhood but is unique. The flexible framework can adapt over time; becoming retail when it needs to, and when the neighborhood changes, it can change as well.
The Barnes Foundation Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects Philadelphia From the AIA Jury:
The Barnes Foundation serves as an example for the museum building typology in its careful consideration of the foundation’s mission, user experience, and sustainable operating practices. It commands attention by inviting pedestrians to the site and incorporating the historic landscapes of Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
More coverage from AN. Boat Pavilion for Long Dock Park Architecture Research Office (ARO) Beacon, New York From the AIA Jury:
This remarkable kayak pavilion – part of the larger Scenic Hudson’s River Center – celebrates simplicity, craft, resilience, and advanced resource-efficiency. Assembled from humble, off-the shelf industrial components, the design skillfully employs careful proportions, elegant detailing, and forthright use of materials to create a building that enlivens the riverfront and creates a vibrant new community gathering space.
Centra Metropark Kohn Pedersen Fox Iselin, New Jersey From the AIA Jury:
While the context is less than desirable, the impact that this building has on the parkway has resulted in improvements of neighboring structures, proving that design can have a ripple effect in an otherwise mundane context. The central exterior column supporting the massive truss level is built with precision and craftsmanship, allowing for maximum expansion while creating a covered welcoming piazza.
More coverage from AN. Clemson University, Lee Hall College of Architecture Thomas Phifer and Partners Clemson, South Carolina From the AIA Jury:
The rigorous clarity in the organization and assembly of this building is perfectly suited to an educational environment for architecture. It is an exceptional work that surrounds students with a seamless integration of programmatic goals, energy efficiency, and creative tectonics.
Milstein Hall, Cornell University OMA and KHA Architects Ithaca, New York From the AIA Jury:
A powerful parti with emphasis on transparency places the entire design school on display to the campus in largely successful ways. The hall is praised by users for its “transactional” qualities: The college’s activities have become far more visually accessible within the Cornell campus; spaces created are connective between Sibley and Rand Halls; and functional relocations—such as the design library—have enhanced communication between student cohorts within the college.
More coverage from AN. Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Yale University KieranTimberlake New Haven From the AIA Jury:
A thumbs-up for preserving the work of Saarinen and exploiting the basement space that was originally less desirable without altering the general impression and character of the project. It is sensitive to the resources and shows real attention to detail—great use of materials, lighting dynamics, and spatial results.
The New York Public Library - Exterior Restoration Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates New York City From the AIA Jury:
This is the first comprehensive exterior reconstruction effort in the building’s history and it was thoroughly and successfully executed. There is a high level of professionalism from everyone that worked on this project; everyone was a strong player - from the craftsmen to the design team - and all contributed to the success of this building.
Saint Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church Marlon Blackwell Architect Springdale, Arkansas From the AIA Jury:
This transformation of a humble former welding shop into an elegant work of religious architecture is an inspiring example for our profession and especially for small practitioners. The project makes the most with the least, displaying deep resource efficiency as an integral part of its design ethos—something more architects should be thinking about and practicing.
  Vancouver Convention Centre West LMN Architects; Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership; DA Architects + PLanners Vancouver, Canada From the AIA Jury:
This large project impressed us on many levels, showing how a typically large, introverted program can thoughtfully reinforce and contribute to a prominent urban site. A carefully considered 360º architecture uniquely responds to a variety of urban and natural adjacencies.
More coverage from AN.
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A New Chapter for the New York Public Library: Foster + Partners Reveal Renovation Plans
New Yorkers, not to mention architecture critics, have been waiting with bated breath to see the plans for the controversial $300 million overhaul of the New York Public Library's historic flagship branch on Fifth Avenue. And today, the designs by Foster + Partners, were finally unveiled. The renovation of the Beaux Arts-style library, completed in 1911 by Carrère and Hastings, will remove seven floors of stacks under the grand Rose Main Reading Room to make way for a 300-person workspace with an expansive atrium, balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, bookshelves, and new areas devoted to classrooms and computer labs. As of now, interior finishes will include a combination of bronze, wood, and stone. The plan is to transfer approximately 3 million books to new storage spaces beneath Bryant Park, and then send the remaining 1.2 million books to an off-site location in New Jersey. The newly renovated NYPL building on 42nd would then house the collections from the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Innovative Science, Industry, and Business Library. “We are reasserting the library’s main axis and its very special sequence of spaces, from the main Fifth Avenue entrance and the Astor Hall, through the Gottesman Hall, into the dramatic volume of the new circulating library, with views through to the park,” Foster said in a statement on the firm’s website. “Our design does not seek to alter the character of the building, which will remain unmistakably a library in its feel, in its details, materials, and lighting. It will remain a wonderful place to study. The parts that are currently inaccessible will be opened up, inviting the whole of the community—it is a strategy that reflects the principles of a free institution upon which the library was first founded.”
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NYPL Debate Rages On
Half of the research books will be available on demand at the Rose Reading Room (Courtesy Flickr Austin_YeahBaby) There seems to be an air of the inevitable in the city's plans to renovate of the New York Public Library's main branch on Fifth Avenue. The New York Times is all over debate on whether the New York Public Library should send half of its 3 million research books to New Jersey to make way for circulation libraries after the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry and Business Library are closed. The Times got the debate rolling with an online forum last week and continued with coverage of yesterdays real world panel held at the New School.
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A Questioning Koolhaas
Rem Koolhaas cut the interviewer short when asked if he had any regrets: “That’s a private matter and therefore not one I will answer.” And yet the entire hour-long conversation provided what seemed to be almost shockingly intimate glimpses into the architect’s state of mind, where feelings of being lonely, isolated, ineffectual, nostalgic, and even old seemed simmering. The event was LIVE, a series offering public interviews of topical characters, held in a sumptuous Victorian-age hall at the New York Public Library. And Rem Koolhaas with Hans Ulrich Obrist were there to talk with event curator Paul Holdengraber about their new book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. The capacity audience numbered over 400, strong in architect professionals, including Marion Weiss, Michael Manfredi, SO-IL’s Jing Liu, Beatriz Colomina, Paul Goldberger, Suzanne Stephens, MoMA’s Pedro Gadhano, and Family’s Dong-Ping Wong among so many others. And they were all ears when Holdengraber said he had asked Koolhaas and Obrist to define themselves in seven words: Koolhaas gave a clear-cut six: mystic, rational, sober, baroque, patient, immediate. Obrist, sort of eight: catalyst, conversation, curating curiosity, guidance-making, and protest against forgetting. In a brief introduction, Koolhaas returned to a subject he’d addressed at the Japan Society a few nights before: How Kisho Kurokawa managed to be a magazine-posing celebrity architect in his day (1950s and 60s) who was still taken seriously enough to influence the direction of postwar Japan. “He was prominent enough to interview the prime minister,” Koolhaas noted, and you could almost feel the waves of longing and envy welling up. Today, he said, the effect is the opposite: the more media exposure, the less architects are taken seriously. Even more, the architect said, Kurokawa provided a postwar model for being male in Japan. (And that without wearing a black turtleneck.) The Metabolists worked together, and with the country almost entirely in ruins, their thinking as a group became “an extension of the imagination of the state.” Perhaps. What the Metabolists actually recommended in terms of architecture—floating fortresses, sky villas, pod-dwellings—seemed less of interest than the camaraderie of ideas. In contrast, Koolhaas said, “We are all lonely operators with very little cooperation. They could stand together and work in a movement.” And though the work itself dealt with impossibilities of scale and entirely broken down systems in desperate need, the united effort was “a miracle to behold.” Glossing over the homogeneity of postwar Japanese society with competitive zeal fueled by peer humiliations, Koolhaas apparently finds that zeitgeist preferable to today’s market economy where “architecture has been warped and separated from anything important and no longer serves the public good, but only the good of private interests.” The sheer Japanoiserie of Japanese architecture impressed both Obrist and Koolhaas who attribute that quality to modern architects having never cut off tradition but allowing it to flow continuously from the past and into their work. The same, he said, could never be said of a French, Dutch, or Swiss architect (pace Zumthor). It means something to be a Japanese architect, Koolhaas contended, while elsewhere, “architects have disintegrated to insignificance.” Such self-flagellating remarks have been voiced before by the profession’s most Sphinxian sage. And yet when he spoke of meeting with surviving Metabolists—some of them politically reactionary, to his surprise— it was how they coped with their advancing years that seems to have caught his attention most: "Perhaps old age requires strategy more than any other point in life. The conversations demonstrated touchingly that it is more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts. As memory weakens, vision is your only option," Koolhaas said at the end, paraphrasing his book and, still marveling, added “It was magnificent to see the tactical ticking in their brains on how to make a good impression.” And so it was.
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A Pictorial Description of Broadway in 1899
Last week, we came across illustrator James Gilliver Hancock's series of playful block elevations titled "All the Buildings in New York." It turns out this impulse to sketch block upon block of New York's architecture has been around for quite some time. In 1899, the Mail & Express newspaper company published a graphic journey down Manhattan's Broadway in a book called A Pictorial description of Broadway now archived at the New York Public Library. The stroll down Broadway 112 years ago reveals just how much New York has evolved over the past century. As the NYPL says, "The result, as you can see here, is a 19th century version of Google's Street View, allowing us to flip through the images block by block, passing parks, churches, novelty stores, furriers, glaziers, and other businesses of the city's past." Two of the most dramatic plates in the series show Times Square, above. Quite a striking difference to the neon canyon we know today. Below, you can see the lush Madison Square, also with significantly fewer high rises, and below that is a stunningly underdeveloped 59th Street showing vacant lots and buildings of only a few floors. Click on the thumbnails below to launch a gallery.
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Sustainism to Debut at New York Public Library
Isms, isms, everywhere. It would seem that a movement is not validated until it gets an "ism." This Wednesday "Sustainism" will be launched at the New York Public Library when authors Michiel Schwarz & Joost Elffers discuss their new book, Sustainism is the New Modernism (Distributed Art Publishers, $24.95). Critic Alice Rawsthorn thoroughly parsed the authors’ explanation of the new term in Sunday's New York Times.  According to Rawsthorn, the criteria for any new movement needs to be "ethically and environmentally responsible, socially and geographically inclusive, collaborative, networked, (and) sensitive to nature."   The critic said that the authors accomplish this through what appears more like a "branding exercise" than a manifesto. For the book, Schwarz acts as cultural theorist and Elffers provides the graphics. According to a press release, Sustainism is described through "a series of graphically dynamic aphorisms, quotes and symbols designed for worldwide use by businesses, individuals and institutions." "What we say is that what Modernism was in the 20th century Sustainism is in the 21st," Elffers said by telephone. "The only way to solve today’s problems is for Sustainism to become the main culture. Modernism was very good at seeing things in compartments, but today we need to solve all the problems at once." Elffers said he and Schwarz began using the term two years ago, and while the duo don't take credit for inventing the movement, they do feel that it deserved a name. "It's two things really: one is to declare it and the second part is to take action." No doubt, today’s designers and artists actually seek out isms in order to grab hold of shorter digital-age attention spans. But back in the day, critics slapped some of the most famous isms onto arts movements as a way to dismiss them, as was the case with Impressionism. Some movements sound like insults, but are not. Brutalism, for example, refers to the exposed concrete finish known as "béton brut." In his new book Greening Modernism, Carl Stein finds sustainable elements inherent in Modern design. As Sustainism plays well with his own title, Stein sees both the pros and cons in adopting the new label. "On the one hand, it’s reassuring to see similar verbiage. It provides some validation," he said. "On the other hand, I worry about any newly invented isms. So much effort seems to be placed on coining the next hot phrase."