The New York Public Library today unveiled new designs by architects Foster + Partners that include proposals for the integration of the Circulating Library into its flagship Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street.
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. While only 30 percent of the library is currently accessible to the public, the project will open 66 percent of the building by utilising 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 Fifth Avenue portico and the Astor Hall into Gottesman Hall, where a permanent treasures gallery will display important pieces from the library’s collection. For the first time, the doors of the Gottesman Hall will be opened up, restoring a sense of symmetry and intuitive circulation across the building. Visitors will enter the new circulation library on a balcony in the centre of the former book stack space, where they will face elevated views of Bryant Park. From here, a staircase will sweep down to the main level, aligned with the park, and further to the education and business library below.
The existing research library will be retained as it is today but more space will be provided for researchers as the two circulating collections will be housed in a new space previously occupied by book stacks. 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.
The 13,000 structural points of the existing stacks will be replaced with a 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 will run the full length of the base of the circulation library, connecting the visitor facilities to the building’s accessible entrance on 42nd Street.