Urban Center Books will close its doors on January 23, leaving New York—temporarily, at least—without a bookstore wholly devoted to books and journals on architecture and urbanism. The shop will continue to sell books online while it looks for a new home near the Municipal Art Society’s (MAS) new offices in the Steinway Building on 57th Street.
The move comes as the New York Palace hotel reclaims the spaces in the Villard Houses that have long held offices as well as galleries and lecture space for various groups relating to the built environment, collectively known as the Urban Center.
While Urban Center Books (UCB) says its online business is growing, it remains committed to a physical space. “Shopping online is not a substitute for browsing the shelf. It’s a curated collection that’s heavily edited,” said Jo Steffens, UCB’s director. UCB is a nonprofit store owned by MAS, and is itself considering space in the Steinway building.
Steffens is also looking at two other spaces near 57th Street. The Steinway building space, she said, is larger than they would like, lacks a street presence, needs to be brought up to ADA standards, and does not have a permit for public assembly (necessary for lectures and book parties). She hopes the UCB will reopen in the summer or fall, and may open a temporary space at the Center for Architecture in the spring.
In September, after a long tenancy next to MAS, the Architectural League decamped for new offices in Soho, gaining a considerable amount of desk and meeting space but losing the shared lecture and gallery space. Their lecture programming is being held in a variety of venues, including the New Museum, the Cooper Union, the Trespa showroom, and Parsons the New School for Design.
The exhibition program will also likely be mobile, possibly including vacant retail spaces. “We’re inhabiting the city,” said Anne Rieselbach, program director at the League. “Having our center of gravity downtown made more sense.”