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NY Library Scraps $300M Redesign

Thursday, May 15, 2014

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A controversial multimillion-dollar plan to redesign the interior of the iconic New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue has been shelved.

“When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget,” library president Anthony W. Marx said in a statement.

New York Public Library
OptimumPx / Wikimedia Commons

New York Public Library officials have decided against a planned Foster + Partner interior renovation of the landmark structure on Fifth Avenue.

The New York Times first reported the about-face regarding the extensive project, known as the “Central Library Plan,” on May 7.

Costly Plan Abandoned

The Foster + Partner-designed renovation of the 1911 Carrère and Hastings’s Beaux-Arts masterpiece would have removed historic book stacks  to relocate the circulating Mid-Manhattan Library in the space and make way for a new reading room, among other changes.

The library first released renderings of the makeover in December 2012; the Landmarks Commission approved of the plans.

However, a number of factors prompted the library to turn the page on the project.

Reports say the cost of the renovation was expected to climb well above the $300 million price tag originally anticipated. The library had already paid the London-based design firm $9 million.

New York Public Library / YouTube

Critics have spoken in opposition of the plan’s swelling price tag and removal of historic book stacks.

In addition, strong opposition to the renovation was voiced by the community, including new Mayor Bill de Blasio, and many architecture scholars and critics.

Lawsuits had also been filed against the library, reports said.

Alternative Plan in the Works

Thus, library officials recanted on the massive redesign and announced an “alternative plan” they say “will best meet” original goals and will fit the $150 million budget allotted by the city.

“Instead of removing the central stacks and placing the Mid-Manhattan Library in that space, we are proposing to renovate Mid-Manhattan Library at its current site,” Marx said. Original plans called for selling the Mid-Manhattan branch.

“This renovation will add much-needed computer labs and an adult education center, and an inspiring, comfortable space for browsing our largest circulating collection.”

The library still plans to make improvements to the historic Schwarzman Building by reopening long-closed rooms, while retaining the historic book stacks.

Further, the library will more than double the current exhibition space in the building and add a new education corridor serving children, teens and teachers. Additional space and services will also be allotted for entrepreneurs, researchers and writers.

New York Public Library
OptimumPx / Wikimedia Commons

Officials are working to fine-tune an alternative plan for the remodel.

A storage expansion is also proposed.

“We look forward to discussing our revised plan with our partners in government, library stakeholders and the public,” Marx said.

Foster Statement

Foster + Partners did not respond to a D+D News request for comment Tuesday (May 13) on the change of plans.

However, principal Norman Foster told the New York Times, that while he respected the decision of the library officials, he was sad.

If I have any kind of sadness on the thing—besides obviously not having the project going ahead and having spent a huge amount of passion on the project with colleagues—it is that the proposals have never been revealed, and there hasn’t really been a debate by those involved, including those who would have benefited from an inclusive approach to the library.”

The news of the slashed renovation comes on the heels of another design controversy for the firm.

In Las Vegas, the Harmon Hotel, also designed by Foster + Partners, is scheduled to be demolished without ever checking in a guest, due to an abundance of structural defects. A report on the Harmon is available here.  

Landmark Building

Designed in the Beaux-Arts style, the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building has been called one of Carrère and Hasting' most important commissions. The New York City-based architects won a design competition for the project in 1897. The monumental library cost $9 million to complete.

Opened in 1911, the library was one of the largest marble buildings in the United States. Between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors flocked to what was dubbed “The People’s Palace” on the day it opened, according to the library’s website. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

A comprehensive exterior restoration project, the first in the building’s history, was completed in 2011. Details on that project, directed by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., are described in this report.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Design; Historic Structures; Libraries; Maintenance + Renovation; Renovation

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