‘The renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, the main circulating branch of the New York Public Library system, isn’t showy, but its light-filled atrium, dedicated spaces and rooftop terrace invite us to linger’
‘Many who dazzle at six will bore by 10,' so goes the old saying, and buildings can be like that too. A ravishing first impression, and then disappointment. This is not the case with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, which prefers to keep its virtues to itself. It reveals them only gradually, and only to those who come to use it.
The Mid-Manhattan Library, as it was formerly called, contains the circulating collection of the main branch of the New York Public Library. Since it opened in 1970, it has been treated as little more than an annex to that sublime building with its iconic marble lions, a stopgap until a more permanent solution could be found. For a time it looked as if it would be sold to a developer and the proceeds used to create a new circulating library, which would have been located beneath the main branch that was then in the process of being refurbished and renamed the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. That plan collapsed in 2014, and it proved a blessing in disguise. For the library has now reopened following a bold $200 million renovation for which the Stavros Niarchos Foundation provided $60 million as well as its new name.
The building of the SNFL (as it is abbreviated) dates from 1915, and was originally the Arnold Constable & Co. department store. Its interior had long since vanished, leaving only its limestone walls and structural columns. Within that six-story shell, the architects of the renovation—Francine Houben of the Dutch firm Mecanoo, working with Elizabeth Leber of Beyer Blinder Belle—could do whatever they wanted.
What they wanted, of all things, was a library that functions like a department store. But then both a department store and a modern circulating library are buildings for the people; they accommodate throngs, make them comfortable, and present them with a wealth of choices. The offerings of the SNFL, which has an annual circulation of two million items, are delightfully diverse. The fifth floor houses a business center, on the sixth are classrooms for a variety of programs (including English as a second language and citizenship classes), and the entire lower level is reserved for children and teenagers who enjoy, among other facilities, use of a recording studio.
Art Review by Michael J. Lewis
Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.