It’s official: More than a decade after it was first announced, the Queens Public Library’s Hunters Point branch is finally ready for its close-up. QPL announced on Twitter that the new building, a quirky concrete box designed by Steven Holl Architects, will make its official public debut on September 24.
“It has taken many hands and a lot of teamwork to bring this spectacular building to life, a tremendous effort that will continue in the next month as we prepare for an opening celebration,” QPL president and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the community to serve Hunters Point and beyond, fulfilling a variety of needs in an inspiring setting.”
Holl’s firm first revealed its design for the library back in 2011, when the project was part of what was then known as Queens West (and has since been renamed Hunters Point South); however, it was beset in the intervening years by bureaucratic red tape, budget issues, a strike in Spain (seriously), and more. It finally had its groundbreaking in 2015, and construction has progressed slowly but surely since then.
The building itself brings a much-needed bit of architectural interest to the Long Island City waterfront; the concrete facade (which is flecked with aluminum to make it sparkle) has a series of irregularly shaped cutouts, which provide a peek at the books and community spaces inside. Those cutouts also give library patrons access to a dramatic view of the Midtown skyline just across the East River. Other nifty elements include a rooftop reading garden, and green space surrounding the building.
In a review for the New York Times, archicritic Michael Kimmelman said the structure is “among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.” But he also questioned why the project took so long—and so much money—to be completed.
The library is one of several starchitect-helmed civic projects to come out of the Bloomberg-era Design and Construction Excellence initiative, which picked big-named architects (Studio Gang, Rafail Viñoly) to design smaller neighborhood projects (a firehouse in Brooklyn and a police station on Staten Island, respectively). But these projects are often held up by “a perfect storm of sluggishness,” as Justin Davidson wrote in New York last year, which can include anything from design tweaks to working with shady contractors.
Still, the Holl-designed branch’s debut is “a cause for celebration,” as Queens City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer—who put $10 million toward its completion—put it in a statement. “I’ve worked on this project since I was a staffer at the Queens Public Library,” Van Bramer said. “And while there have been moments of great frustration with delays, I know that generations of children and families will benefit because we stayed the course, invested the money, and saw this project to its completion.”
Get a peek inside with this video from the QPL: