The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) is New York’s new central circulating library, designed by Mecanoo in collaboration with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners. Built within the 1914 shell and steel frame of the Mid-Manhattan Library which it replaces, the 16,722 m2 (180,000 sq. ft.) building is topped with a spectacular angular roof and public rooftop amenities to make a new urban icon on Fifth Avenue.
Francine Houben, Founding Partner and Creative director of Mecanoo, declares that “libraries are the most important public buildings of all”. This is reinforced in SNFL’s open, humanistic design and inclusive program, which resonates with NYPL’s mission “to fight ignorance, and provide New Yorkers with the tools that they need to foster a better understanding of each other across racial and all other divides”.
SNFL is a new-generation library for all New Yorkers, with special facilities for young users, adult learning, and business. It offers the perfect contemporary complement to NYPL’s world-famous Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (SASB), located across Fifth Avenue from SNFL. SASB opened in 1911, designed by architects Carrère & Hastings in a glorious Beaux-Art style, and receives over 1.7 million visits a year as the mothership of NYPL’s reference collections.
New features at SNFL reflect this harmony between the buildings: long tables that recall the impressive scale of those in SASB’s Rose Main Reading Room, ceiling artwork in the Long Room that echoes the neo-classical paintings set in SASB’s ceilings, and the use of classic materials including natural stone, terrazzo, and oak.
SNFL has an annual circulation of two million items, and this sheer volume generates challenges in access, organization, and storage. The design solution offers more space, more books, more seats, and lower shelves. The heart of the library is the Long Room, a new space that truly brings the idea of a library into the old structure, which was originally designed as a department store. This dramatic linear atrium separates three floors of flexible, daylit reading areas on one side and five levels of book stacks on the other, a creative and efficient solution to balancing the need for a browsable collection and the desire for more public reading room space.
Above the Long Room, the fifth and sixth floors host the Business Center and the Pasculano Learning Center facilities. SNFL now delivers to the Midtown cityscape a sensational new public roof attraction and a striking sculptural addition. Elevators and stairs continue to the seventh floor, which is built at the original building’s roof level. This new floor has pitched wood slat ceilings and contains a flexible 268-occupant conference and event center.
An L-shaped roof terrace runs above the 40th Street and Fifth Avenue facades and includes a roof garden and an adjacent indoor café. It is Manhattan’s only free, publicly accessible roof terrace and offers staggering Midtown views, including across Fifth Avenue to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and surrounding skyscrapers.
Above the seventh floor, a dramatic new roof slopes up to cover mechanical equipment, reaching 56m (184 feet) above street level. Its angled pitches, and a patinated copper-colored aluminum surface, are inspired by Manhattan’s Beaux Art copper-clad mansard roofs, two 1904 examples of which are visible from the terrace. As a new native New Yorker, the form also nods to the tapering spires of New York’s art deco skyscrapers and faceted facades of its newer towers. Francine Houben declared this spectacular roof to be ‘a Wizard Hat for all New Yorkers!’
Houben says: ‘A central circulating library must empower the community it serves. Here, the community is all New Yorkers. Super-charged with energy, diversity and hope, America’s great-est city deserves the best that a central circulating library can be. The Stavros Niarchos Founda-tion Library is a powerhouse of wisdom, and its street presence brings drama and magic to Manhattan, visibly expressed with its Wizard Hat’.
Image copyright by John Bartelstone (2nd), Max Touhey (1st and 3rd).