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Archicritic tells Norman Foster He Can Do Better at the NYPL

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The intersection of architecture and urbanism with questions of equality, democracy, and the environment is where Times archicritic Michael Kimmelman lives, so it's no surprise he has some strong words on those subjects in relation to the proposed makeover of the New York Public Library. The library is "already an exemplar of democracy at its healthiest and best," Kimmelman writes, contrary to the NYPL PR campaign that presents the renovation as a democracy-growing endeavor. It's the library's local branches, Kimmelman argues, that are really in need of funds and attention.

But where Kimmelman really earns his archicritic badge?and follows in the footsteps of Nicolai?is with the zingers he flings the way of the NYPL's chosen architect, Norman Foster. Here are five of our favorites:

5) "While remaining hard to pin down on the dollar amounts, [library higher-ups] are eager to demonstrate that every conceivable alternative strategy has been explored, weighed, re-examined and rejected. Proceeding in any other way than by investing in this potential Alamo of engineering, architecture and finance would be irresponsible, they've concluded. I have found this to be a not-uncommon phenomenon among cultural boards, a form of architectural Stockholm syndrome."

4) "The designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall. I was reminded that Mr. Foster is also responsible for the canopied enclosure of the inner court at the British Museum, a pompous waste of public space that inserts a shopping gallery into the heart of a sublime cultural institution."

3) "Library officials recapitulate that they've run the numbers for redeveloping Mid-Manhattan and that they don't work: They'd lose much or all of the taxpayer money Mayor Bloomberg has committed, lose the benefits of consolidation and would still have to repair the stacks at 42nd Street. That said, the last thing they'd want to be remembered for is trashing their landmark building and digging a money pit. They might check out the names of the lions on the front steps, for prudence's sake."

2) "To me, what results is an awkward, cramped, banal pastiche of tiers facing claustrophobia-inducing windows, built around a space-wasting atrium with a curved staircase more suited to a Las Vegas hotel."

1) "The value of an institution isn't measured in public square feet. But its value can be devalued by bad architecture. And here we get to the schematics Mr. Foster finally unveiled last month. They aren't worthy of him. After more than four years, this hardly seems the best he can do."
· Norman Foster's Public Library Will Need Structural Magic [NYT]
· NYPL coverage [Curbed]
?NYPL rendering by dbox

NYPL - Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

455 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY