The New York Public Library will begin its Midtown renovation, and as a first step will begin designing the renovation of its central circulating branch, the Mid-Manhattan Library. Following a year of discussion and planning led by librarians and informed by expert and public feedback, the Library has selected Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo to lead the Midtown renovation.
Led by founding partner and creative director Francine Houben, Mecanoo has designed award-winning libraries and public buildings around the world, and is renowned for its humanistic, accessible designs. The architect of record will be the New York City firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, whose award-winning renovations of historic buildings include Grand Central Terminal, Ellis Island, and New York City Hall.
The Midtown plan is a $300 million project to completely renovate and update the Mid-Manhattan Library, and to create increased public space, including for researchers and for exhibitions, at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street/Fifth Avenue. The plan will create a modern library experience in the heart of Midtown Manhattan for NYPL’s research, circulating, and business library functions.
The Mid-Manhattan Library - which received approximately 1.7 million visits last year - requires a complete interior renovation. The building will house a modern circulating library, a business library, a large education space, and spaces for public programs and classes. Construction on the building is expected to start in late 2017 and be complete in 2019. After the Mid-Manhattan renovation has begun, work will begin on expanding public space at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building by approximately 42 percent. Currently vacant or underutilized staff spaces will be transformed into expanded and improved facilities for researchers and writers, public programming space to introduce teens and young adults to the research building and its treasures, and increased exhibition spaces. The project is being funded with city, state, and private money.
“Over 100 years ago, our City leaders knew that a great nation required a library that was the beacon of its largest city—and that couldn’t be more true today,” said Tony Marx, President of The New York Public Library. “This Midtown renovation will provide today and tomorrow’s New Yorkers the library they deserve to access information, study, write, enjoy our treasures, and all the other many wonderful forms of strengthening minds and our community at large that take place in a great library.”
Mecanoo was chosen for the Midtown Campus project after an eight-month selection process, and was unanimously approved Wednesday 16 September by the Library’s Board of Trustees. The firm’s extensive experience with libraries, as well as its reputation for accessible, respectful urban development, made it the ideal candidate for the unique project. Mecanoo’s many awards include the Stirling Prize nomination and the Civic Trust Award. Francine Houben is a Honorary Fellow of the AIA and was named Woman Architect of the Year in 2014.
This fall, she will receive the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Prize from Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Partner Elizabeth Leber will lead the project for Beyer Blinder Belle, a firm that has won numerous awards, including the Presidential Design Award, the AIA Honor Award for Architecture, and the Historic Districts Council Landmarks Lion Firm Award.
The search process for the architect team was led by a joint staff and Trustee working group, led by the Chair of NYPL’s Board of Trustees, Evan Chesler. “With this team - Mecanoo, a worldwide leader in library design, and Beyer Blinder Belle, which has renovated New York’s most prominent and iconic historic buildings - the Library can be confident we can realize our ambitious, and critically important, vision,” said Chesler.
Mecanoo is currently renovating Washington, D.C.’s main circulating library, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, and designed the widely-renowned Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Boston. It has designed acclaimed libraries such as the Library of Birmingham in Birmingham, England and the Delft University of Technology Library in the Netherlands, as well as theaters, community centers, and university buildings. Houben will move to New York for the design phase of the Mid-Manhattan Library renovation.
While planning, Mecanoo will utilize information and public feedback garnered over the last year by the Library in a variety of ways, including a large public planning session in March, over 15,000 surveys gathered from patrons online and in the Library’s Midtown buildings, small advisory groups of experts in key topics (including K-12 education and research), and site visits to fellow New York City institutions. Additional public feedback sessions will be scheduled in the future, and the firm will begin extensive outreach to internal library stakeholders and the public this fall.
“Libraries are the cathedrals of our time. It is the most important public building in a city,” said Houben. “Our holistic approach - from library card to campus - aims to create a public library in the broadest sense, welcoming to all and capable of changing the course of individual lives through innovative library spaces and services, for today and tomorrow. It is a great honor to have been selected for this project.”
The project complements NYPL work already happening in Midtown, including the construction of a second level of state-of-the-art collections storage beneath Bryant Park, connected to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
For ongoing information on this project, check nypl.org/midtowncampus.