After Hurricane Sandy, the squat, one-story Far Rockaway Branch Library served as a disaster-relief hub for the community. In spite of its civic function, however, the building has always been obscured behind non-descript brick walls and an entrance guarded by a tall iron fence. Now, New York– and Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta has stepped in to change that, redesigning the library as a transparent beacon that aims to further revitalize the Rockaways.
Located on the busy commercial intersection of Mott and Central avenues, the new design presents simplified massing. “The idea is for it to be a very simple volume,” said Nathan McRae, project manager at Snøhetta. “The neighborhood itself is already visually cluttered. We want to create a simple, monolithic enclosure.”
In the design, a two-story wall of glass opens up the library’s facade to the street. Snøhetta is working with a photographer and artist to capture a Far Rockaway sunset inside the building’s glass curtain wall, sandwiching digitally printed frits and warm sunset hues between layers of glass. McRae said the glass wall will be transparent from the inside—the frit pattern is 40 percent open, and applied in a gradient that grows more opaque as it climbs, cutting down on solar gain and glare much as in a car windshield—but the image will be legible on the exterior.
Snøhetta cut away the corner of the building, creating a dramatic triangular entrance stretching to the roofline. The entrance’s low-iron glass provides a clear and welcoming view into the lobby and helps to create a prominent, inviting corner.
Warm tones on the interior complement the daylight that filters through the sunset-toned facade. A large skylight brings natural light into the middle of the building. “The center is pierced with an inverted pyramid we’re calling ‘the collector’,” McRae said. “It’s the focal point of the interior. The space serves to distribute light into the building and its reading rooms.” A large skylight covered in colored, faceted metal panels helps control natural light entering the space. Surrounding the collector, a screen of tilted chrome rods defines the two-story space and draws attention to a monumental central stair without closing it off from the rest of the structure.
“It’s hoped this building is a catalyst for change in Far Rockaway,” McRae added. “The neighborhood was hit pretty bad during Sandy and is in need of investment. We think this could help spur that.”