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First look at Foster's $250 million NY library scheme

Foster + Partners has revealed the first images of its long-awaited, competition-winning scheme to overhaul New York’s Central Library

The practice won the prized commission to overhaul the Beaux Arts-fronted Stephen A Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street back in October 2008.

At present just 30 per cent of the library is accessible to the public and the scheme aims to more than double this, opening 66 per cent of the building by vitalising ‘unused reading rooms, back of house spaces, offices and book stacks’.

Describing the project, which is part of a wider £1 billion programme to ‘reimagine libraries’ throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, Foster said: ‘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.’

Our design does not seek to alter the character of the building

He added: ‘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.’

The architect’s view

The project aims to safeguard the building’s legacy and precious books for future generations. The existing research library will be retained as it is today, with more space for researchers, as will many of the public spaces - the project will open twice as much of the building to the public and will restore the logic of the Neo-Classical design to improve the experience of the library’s historic halls. The two circulating collections will be housed in a spectacular new space previously occupied by book stacks.
The centrepiece of the 5th Avenue and 42nd Street building is the magnificent Rose Reading Room, below which are seven storeys of book stacks. However, these stacks are inaccessible to the public and no longer meet the needs of the books they contain, in terms of capacity, fire safety or preservation. The books will be moved to a large humidity-controlled chamber under Bryant Park, which was created in 1989 as part of the Bryant Park project, and provides the ideal environment for
their conservation. Thus the stack space is freed to create a new ‘library within a library’ comprised of the Mid-Manhattan collections and the Science, Industry and Business Library - reinstating a circulating library to the NYPL main building, as had originally existed until the 1980s.

Foster + Partners' proposed overhaul of New Central Library, in New York

Source: dbox

The 13,000 structural points of the existing stacks will be replaced with an innovative new vaulted stone and steel cradle. This move will free the floors from the west façade, allowing them to be peeled back to form a series of balconies - in the process revealing the full height of the slender windows internally for the first time. New study areas will line the perimeter of the balconies and new reading platforms will sit beneath the vaulted ceilings, which are carefully attuned to ensure excellent acoustic performance. The materials palette and design of the interiors will evolve with further development. The current combination shows bronze, wood and stone, which will age gracefully with the passage of time and use. A new internal atrium runs the full length of the base of the circulation library, connecting the visitor facilities to the building’s accessible entrance on 42nd Street.

Previous story (AJ 17.02.2012)

Foster’s $250 million NY library scheme resurrected

Foster + Partners’ competition-winning scheme to overhaul New York’s Central Library has been given the green light, nearly three and a half years after the practice landed the job

Earlier this week the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) board of trustees authorised the ‘start of the schematic design process’, allowing Foster + Partners to begin its work in earnest on the overhaul of the Beaux Arts-fronted Stephen A Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street

The $250 million scheme, which the practice won in October 2008, is part of a wider £1 billion programme to ‘reimagine libraries’ throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.

According to The New York Times, the plans stalled because of the economic downturn and changes in library leadership. To help fund the Foster project two libraries will be sold off; the Mid-Manhattan branch and the Science, Industry and Business Library.

The trustees want the existing 1911 building by John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, to become the US’s ‘largest combined circulating and research library’. Public space and workspce for scholars and researchers will be doubled.

Norman Foster told the AJ: This is very good news, we greatly look forward to continuing the project and the creative dialogue that we have enjoyed with the library since the competition in 2008, shaping this distinguished institution for future generations’

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