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New York Public Library Renovation Gets Landmarks Approval

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In a hearing yesterday afternoon, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved Norman Foster's redesign of the New York Public Library, with only one commissioner voting against [correction: the vote was 6-2]. Despite fervent public opposition to the renovation's most controversial aspect—the removal of seven levels of bookstacks under the Rose Reading Room—the commissioners kept their discussion limited, for the most part, to the exterior of the building. Ultimately, they had few qualms about the changes to the facade and rooftop, which commissioner Fred Bland called "incredibly sensitive and minor." The various researchers (upset over the removal of the stacks) and preservationists (upset in general) who offered testimony didn't quite see it that way.

Much of the public testimony focused on the design of the Bryant Park-facing west facade of the building and its relation to the stacks, which are, in addition to being, as described by archicritic Paul Goldberger, "a magnificent artifact, an elaborate structure of steel and iron designed for rapid retrieval and delivery of books to readers waiting in the monumental reading room above," structurally important in that they provide support for the Rose Reading Room. Foster's plan would replace the stacks with columns and make the space into an open area, part of NYPL President Tony Marx's stated mission to "replace books with people" (or, as the redesign's critics might say, to turn a distinguished and revered research institution into some sort of glossy Internet cafe).

More than one person made the case that since the west facade was given long, vertical windows in order to light the stacks, removing the stacks would dissolve the marriage of form and function (and interior and exterior) that had been key to Carrère & Hastings' original design. Charles Warren, co-author of Carrère & Hastings, Architects, was more to the point: "If you stop the small things, which you have the power to do, you may stop the big thing, which you perceive to be beyond your grasp." Not a bad try by any means, but the LPC wasn't having it. Work on the renovation is expected to begin this summer and be completed by 2018.
· New York Public Library coverage [Curbed]

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