In 2008, amid much outcry, the New York Public Library closed its second busiest branch with plans to sell it to a hotel developer, and they promised a new, modern library soon. Five years later, plans are just now being unveiled for the new space, which will finally replace the Donnell Library Center at 20 West 53rd Street. But the sleek, open design, created by Enrique Norten's firm TEN Arquitectos, is not likely to win over the critics. It won't open until sometime in 2015, and when it does, it will be less than one-third the size of its predecessor. The Times notes that the amount of book shelving will be the same as the Donnell, but Norten told the Grey Lady, "It has become more like a cultural space, which is about gathering people, giving people the opportunity to encounter each other. It's not really about just being a repository of books."
The new $20 million library will be at the base of a 50-story hotel-condo tower developed by Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital, aka the Baccarat. Two of the three floors will below ground, and to create a light-filled space, Norten designed the ground floor like a dramatic entryway with a glass facade and bleacher-like seating that descends to the lower level. This space will be used for events like speakers and film screenings, or it can be a place to read. How novel!
At 28,000-square-feet, the library will be a third of the 97,000-square-foot Donnell, but public space is only being cut in half, down to 16,000-square-feet from 31,000. Much of the Donnell's operations have been relocated, and the new library will have fewer back-of-house needs and special collections. There will be no teenager room, media center, or World Languages reading room. New features include a "technology hub," children's reading room, and a 141-seat auditorium.
The original plan for the Donnell Library began in late 2007 with a deal to sell it to Orient-Express Hotels for $59 million. When the economy tanked, Orient-Express backed out, and in 2011, the library sold to the current developers (haters of the NYPL main branch renovation plans will be less-than-pleased to learn that some of the money from the Donnell sale went toward those $350 million plans). And, rest assured, the library has certainly learned its lesson. said Library president and chief executive Anthony Marx told the Journal, "The primary lesson going forward is that we should avoid, if at all possible, closing any branch, let alone a much-used branch." You don't say.
· A Place to Hang Out (Read, Too) [NYT]
· A Long Road to New Library Space [WSJ]
· TEN Arquitectos [official]
· Donnell Library coverage [Curbed]