First phase of the renovated Mid-Manhattan Library begins dispensing books

From A Responsible Distance, Of Course

First phase of the renovated Mid-Manhattan Library begins dispensing books

Five years after the New York Public Library (NYPL) Board of Trustees selected Dutch firm Mecanoo and local preservation experts Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) to overhaul the Mid-Manhattan Library on 40th Street, the renovated building has opened to the public. Now dubbed the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, the first floor opened on July 13 for limited pickup service, a preview to whet New Yorkers’ appetites ahead of the full fall 2020 launch.

The project is part of the larger renovation and reorganization of the NYPL’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building across the street, connecting the two libraries into a larger campus (although not physically, plans for a tunnel beneath 5th Avenue were scrapped). The $317 million master plan, scheduled to fully wrap up in 2021, will see a new 40th Street entrance added to the Schwarzman building, as well as the increase of its publicly-accessible space by 20 percent thanks to the opening and restoration of underused rooms.

Cross-section of a six-story library with basement
A cross-section diagram showing the reorganization and additions to the building. (Courtesy Mecanoo with Beyer Blinder Belle)

The renovation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library was an even larger task; the six-story building, originally constructed in 1915 as a department store, became the Mid-Manhattan Library in 1970, and many of the trappings of that era were still present right up to the renovation. Drop ceilings, dark, cramped spaces, and outdated color-coded furniture were all removed as the interior was stripped back to its turn-of-the-century condition.

Mecanoo reorganized the library with a number of additions (and subtractions) designed to consolidate space. The stacks have been pushed to the rear, and a three-story atrium void has been carved out to let more sunlight into the space, along with larger windows added at the ground floor to better evoke the department store nature of the original condition. The basement will be converted into a floor entirely for children and teens, and because of the library’s role as a center for continuing education and professional resources, the sixth floor will become an adult education center and the seventh a dedicated business library. Mecanoo has also been showing off the Thos. Moser-designed new furniture set to fill the space, a mix of midcentury-chic and sporty that references the solid wood chairs commonly found throughout all New York Public Library branches.

Rendering of a large atrium cutting across a library
When it opens, the stacks will be accessible via bridge. (Courtesy Mecanoo with Beyer Blinder Belle)

The biggest and most visible addition is what Mecanoo founding partner Francine Houben has referred to as the “wizard hat,” a copper-green, multistory topper that will contain a new events space. The renovation will also open up the rooftop terrace for public use.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library had originally been slated to open in May of this year, but the opening was pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Although the first floor opened for grab-and-go service for New Yorkers looking to brush up on their summer reading, construction is currently ongoing across the rest of the building.