|The proposed modification of the New York Public Library building would create a multistory atrium and reading room along its western facade. Image: dbox/ Foster + Partners|
London-based Foster + Partners has released renderings and a proposal for a major modification of the New York Public Library building (1911), designed by Carrère & Hastings, also known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The project will integrate the NYPL's circulating library into the Beaux Arts building for the first time in several decades.
This will be achieved by removing the existing Rose Reading Room, which extends along much of the building's western facade, overlooking Bryant Park, and by exposing seven floors of space beneath the room that has been previously closed to the public. The books currently stored in this area will be moved to an existing climate-controlled storage facility located beneath Bryant Park.
|View from entrance of the proposed circulation library. Image: dbox/ Foster + Partners|
The firm's design for this modification will replace the existing structural system with what is being described as a "stone and steel cradle", pulling the interior floor plates back from the existing exterior wall and forming a multistory atrium and reading room in the void that is created. The atrium will serve as a focal point for the new circulating library and balconies in the book stacks will overlook it.
Norman Foster said of the proposed modifications:
"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 existing Rose Reading Room. Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images|
Considering the building's historic status and the Rose Reading Room's , the firm's plans for this project have been the subject of some criticism, even prior to the release of these renderings.
In the last published article before her death, former New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who began her career advocating against the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, offered her own assessment of the then-unreleased plans for the building modification:
"I am certain Foster will come up with impeccable, creative solutions. However, I no longer feel I must see these drawings no matter how skillfully they address the plan. They will undoubtedly be functional and handsome in Foster's trademark high-tech manner. However, after extensive study of the library's conception and construction I have become convinced that irreversible changes of this magnitude should not be made in this landmark building. I am not going to rehearse the intellectual, literary and sentimental arguments already on the record. This is all about the building, a subject that has not been adequately addressed." — "Undertaking Its Destruction," Wall Street Journal, 2012.1203
|Image: dbox/ Foster + Partners|
The building recently underwent a major restoration of its classically detailed eastern facade. That project, designed by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., received a 2013 Institute Honor Award from the AIA.