2024 02 07

Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle Update the New York Public Library's Beaux-Arts Main Branch – Architectural Record

07.02.2024 - Publications

Over the years, the 1911 Beaux-Arts main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), now officially named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, by Carrère & Hastings has morphed and been modified internally to accommodate changing user needs and logistical demands. But changes can involve missteps. So it comes as a relief that for the most recent phase of this landmark’s ongoing renovation, the Dutch firm Mecanoo, as design architect, and Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) as the preservation architect, have carried out sensitive exterior and interior interventions that enhance its circulation and accommodate expanded programmatic requirements.

The entire building lacked an organizational focus. “It was chaos,” says Francine Houben, Mecanoo’s partner in charge, adding, “We wanted to listen to the logic of the Beaux-Arts building.” Over the years, spaces conceived for public use had been usurped for staff, mechanical equipment, or storage. And, though this NYPL flagship has maintained its program as a resource for scholars and students, there were always tourists—millions each year, of late, who walk through its halls just to take in the majestic spaces and gallery exhibitions.

According to Elizabeth Leber, BBB partner in charge, a large part of the renovation—much of it surgical and behind the scenes—is about the materials, a durable and classic palette of stone, terrazzo, bronze, and wood. The key factor, however, is flow. To improve it, the architects first installed a side entrance on 40th Street, where there was none, replacing a mechanical enclosure with a plaza that leads to Fifth Avenue, and sourcing the same Vermont marble found in the original building for cladding around new bronze doors that seem to have always been there. “We were very careful, conferring with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about how to integrate these details,” says Leber.

Read the full article at Architectural Record.

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