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Design of Subterranean Glass Library Unveiled

Interior rendering of the new community library, which displays a sunken atrium that will be used as the steps of the lower levels of the library
The new community library that will be located at 20 West 53rd Street in midtown Manhattan, the site of the former Donnell Library Center, will include a sunken atrium that will be used as the steps to the lower levels of the library as well as a gathering area. TEN Architectos

The New York Public Library unveiled the new light-filled, spacious design for the 53rd Street Library last week.

May 21, 2013—Libraries have always been first and foremost about books, but technological developments have expanded the role of community libraries. Part gathering point for the community, part book repositories, 21st-century libraries need to be about much more than their predecessors. Such is the case with a light-filled, spacious design created by the New York office of the architecture firm TEN Arquitectos that the New York Public Library (NYPL) unveiled last week.

Located at 20 West 53rd Street, directly across the street from the Modern Museum of Art in midtown Manhattan, the new 28,000 sq ft, 3-story library will officially open in late 2015 as one of the largest branches in the NYPL system, replacing the Donnell Center Library which formerly occupied the lot. A glass curtain wall at ground level opens up the interior to views from the street—and vice versa. Visitors will enter a galley overlooking a sunken 141-seat atrium that includes the steps to the lower levels of the library; the atrium can be used for movie screenings and performances, as well as community events. The lower level also includes public reading and meeting spaces, a family and children’s area, computer labs, an audio-visual collection, and accessible book collections. 

 Exterior rendering of new library will display a glass curtain wall at its entrance

The 28,000 sq ft, 3-story library was designed by New York and
Mexico City-based TEN Arquitectos and will officially open in late
2015 as one of the largest branches in the New York Public
Library system. A glass curtain wall at its entrance will offer wide
site lines and will admit daylight into the library. TEN Architectos

“We realized immediately that if we understood and approached this project not as an interior, nor as a building, but as a public landscape, it would do many things for us,” says Andrea Steele, AIA, a managing partner in the New York office of TEN Arquitectos and the lead for this project. So the team set out to study other “great public landscape spaces” within Manhattan that provide areas for community members to gather in relaxed settings, including Central Park, Bryant Park, and the steps of the New York Central Branch Library. The architects wanted the library design to both reflect these other spaces and also offer a “wonderful contrast” to the luxury residential and high-end retail spaces to be found in the library’s neighborhood, Steele says.

The former library, which was closed in 2008 after being sold to developers, was a “meaningful touchstone” for the neighborhood, according to Steele. The new design offers spaces for everyone who might visit, from computer users to bookworms looking for quiet corners in which to settle in and read.

“It’s so critical that you provide a wide range of spaces for people given the fact that some people will come solely for the social means, some will come for what they believe a library should always be—a place for interacting with books and quiet study, reading, and reflection—and some will come for every reason in between,” Steele says.  

The new design is meant to be dynamic and vibrant, like Manhattan itself, according to Steele. New York “changes throughout the day, either by a change in occupants or light levels,” she says. The design team wanted to create a space that would transform in a similar manner: “A dynamic space that would change throughout the course of a day and year and would therefore invite people to seek out new experiences with every visit,” she says.

Another interior rendering of the new library which displays comfortable social spaces and computer lab access

The new design accommodates traditional library functions along
with comfortable social spaces and computer lab access.
Systemwide, the New York Public Library served more than 18
million visitors last year. TEN Architectos

The NYPL provides educational opportunities and information via free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, and programming to people located in the New York City boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. The NYPL has 91 locations and last year served more than 18 million visitors and 32 million virtual visitors from around the globe to its website and extensive digital image collections.  

The $20-million library will serve as the base of the luxury 50-story Baccarat Hotel and Residences tower that is currently being developed by Starwood Capital Group, in partnership with Tribeca Associates. Designed by global architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the 340,000 sq ft luxury mixed-use tower will open in 2014 with 61 private residences and a hotel boasting 114 rooms, including 26 suites. Once the tower opens, work on the library space will begin.

The TEN Arquitectos library design has already been awarded a 2013 project merit award from the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter.



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