Foster’s Design for the New York Public Library Unveiled

The Public Library’s (NYPL) main building on Fifth Avenue, is a Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by architects Carrère & Hastings. Image via Flickr User CC wallyg.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has unveiled the details of their controversial plan to renovate the 20th century, Carrère and Hastings “masterpiece” on 5th Avenue. Designed Foster + Partners, the $300 million dollar proposal is a response to the cultural shift from traditional stacks to online resources, as the library has experienced a 41% decrease in the use of collections over the last 15 years.

Sensitive to concerned critics, the renovation promises to preserve the building’s legacy as it integrates a new, state-of-the-art Circulating Library into its flagship Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. Foster’s “library within a library” will transform seven floors of stacks, currently occupying the back of the building, into an aesthetically, technologically and environmentally advanced public space that meets the needs of our 21st century society.

“We need to be respectful of the beloved, iconic building and to create a new inspiring space,” Anthony W. Marx, the library’s president, said in an interview with the New York Times. “At a time when people wonder about the future of libraries, we’re going to create the greatest library the world has ever seen.”

Learn all the details and see the renderings after the break…

Rendering by dbox, Courtesy of

With just 30 percent of the library currently accessible to the public, the renovation will more than double this, opening 66 percent of the building by utilizing unused reading rooms, back of house spaces, offices and book stacks. The design aims to make the building more inviting, more permeable and to bring the books to the fore rather than hide them away.

Starting with the circulation strategy, the central axis through the Neo-Classical building will be reasserted. Visitors will be able to walk in a straight line through the grand Fifth Avenue portico and the majestic Astor Hall into Gottesman Hall, where a permanent treasures gallery will display some of the most important pieces from the collection. For the first time, the westerly doors of the Gottesman Hall will be opened up, restoring a sense of symmetry and intuitive circulation across the building.

Rendering by dbox, Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Visitors will enter the new circulation library on a balcony in the center of the former book stack space, where they will face elevated views of Bryant Park. The existing stacks will be peeled back to create a four-level, naturally lit atrium filled with public sitting areas, bookshelves and desks. From here, a grand staircase will sweep down to the main level, aligned with the park, and further to the state-of-the-art education and business library below. Here, the iconic, slender windows of the library’s facade will be revealed internally for the first time, illuminating the space. With an area of about 100,000 square feet, the new library will be the largest indoor public space in New York.

Rendering by dbox, Courtesy of Foster + Partners

In an attempt to appease initial controversy, the majority books that currently occupy these stacks will no longer be transferred to a New Jersey storage, but rather a large, humidity-controlled chamber beneath Bryant Park. With the help of an $8 million dollar donation, 3.3 million of the museum’s 4.5 million books will remain easily accessible on site. On the floors of the new contemporary addition, you will find 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.

The materials palette and design of the interiors will evolve with further development. The current combination shows bronze, wood and stone, which will complement “the vocabulary of materials that already runs throughout the building,” as Mr. Foster described to the New York Times. “Materials that would weather and improve with age evoke an atmosphere of study and contemplation.”

Norman Foster: “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, 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 renovation will also transform the second-floor offices and storage rooms, which have been long closed to the public, into work space that can accommodate about 300 writers, scholars and researchers. “These are majestic old rooms that have gone dormant for decades,” Mr. Marx said, according the the New York Times. In addition, the enhanced children’s room, a new center for teenagers and below-ground education spaces will be integrated into the design.

Construction on the project, known as the Central Library Plan, is expected to begin this summer and to be completed in 2018.

See what else the critics have to say with our previous article Ada Louise Huxtable Takes On The New York Public Library.

via Foster + Partners, The New York Times

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Foster’s Design for the New York Public Library Unveiled" 20 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=309962>

5 comments

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    St. Louis’ beautiful century-old Central Library just finished up a very similar renovation — including the replacement of the six-story stacks with an airy atrium and public space. It too has, for the first time in a long time (ever), full through-access and exposed windows for natural light.

    More on the opening (with 90+ pictures) is here on NextSTL.com by our unofficial neighborhood chronicler Mark Groth: http://nextstl.com/downtown/the-central-library-renovation

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I can’t stand foster and his sudden take over of New York. Why can’t they have an open competition for this sort of project. Don’t they want to be able to choose the best possible design? Lord knows you don’t get that when you hire a starchitect like foster. His earlier work was incredible; his recent work is poor. This project is no exception. It looks like a train station in there.

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