WORKac’s Adams Street Library makes its DUMBO debut

Business In The Front, Library Inside

WORKac’s Adams Street Library makes its DUMBO debut

Brooklyn’s newest public library branch clearly advertises itself while melding into its historic industrial trappings along the East River. (Gregg Richards)

Just months after unveiling a $38 million, Toshiko Mori-led interior refresh of its landmark Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has debuted its first location in nearly 40 years: The Adams Street Library in DUMBO.

Bringing over 6,500 square feet of newly created public space to northwest Brooklyn’s park-lined East River waterfront, the $7.2 million project at 9 Adams Street is the 60th branch for the BPL (the sixth-largest public library system in the United States), and the first branch to serve DUMBO and the neighboring Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Farragut Houses communities. Previously, the nearest BPL location was the Brooklyn Heights branch, which is currently also undergoing renovations as part of a mixed-use residential development at Cadman Plaza scheduled for completion early next year. Proceeds from that considerable redevelopment project helped, in part, to fund the creation of the new Adams Street Library as well as revamps at a multitude of branches across the system in need of long-overdue makeovers.

an orange-accented reading room in a public library
View of the main entrance to the Adams Street Library. (Gregg Richards)

Informed by a series of public engagement sessions and workshops held with community residents and stakeholders, Work Architecture Company (WORKac) led the design of the new library, one that dramatically transformed the ground floor of a historic former factory building beneath the Manhattan Bridge and located just steps away from John Street Park, the northernmost section of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Joining WORKac on the project as contractor was Shawmut Design & Construction.

“The neighborhood is both new and old, and our design plays with that, combining very contemporary shapes and spaces with the existing, patinaed brick and exposed timber ceilings,” said Dan Wood, co-founder and principal of Manhattan-based WORKac alongside Amale Andraos, who is also the outgoing dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

a table surrounded by shelves of books at a public library
(Gregg Richards)
an orange-hued children's area in a public library
The children’s area is a major component of the new branch, reflective of the changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhood. (Gregg Richards)

“We placed the children’s area at the heart of this project, because they are who draw a community together,” added Andraos in a statement.

The dedicated children’s area is the “focal point” of the Adams Street Library as noted by the BPL in a press release, a space that is “elevated in the center of the library so younger children can see out of the large windows, for story time and play.” (Said windows span 15 feet.) Teens get their own space, too, as part of a larger push by the BPL to differentiate areas for middle and school-aged kids and their younger counterparts through the creation of “separate and safe” gathering areas for socializing and, of course, homework.

Described by BPL president and CEO Linda E. Johnson as a “21st-century library that’s both artful and accessible, beautiful and versatile,” the new DUMBO branch of the BPL, in addition to its dedicated areas for kids and teens, circulating stacks and resource collections, include flexible community meeting rooms and programming spaces. (Upcoming featured programming includes Bilingual Drag Queen Story Hour featuring Cholula Lemon.)

large windows and high ceilings in a public library
Carved out of an old factory building on the Brooklyn waterfront, the library features brick walls and 15-foot-tall windows. (Gregg Richards)
a reference desk in a library with a large pixelated mural
The main reference desk with a large mural by Linked By Air. (Gregg Richards)

DUMBO-based graphic design studio Linked By Air also created two large-scale murals for the new library. One, a wall-length pixelated work located behind the main check-in desk, depicts gargantuan grayscale flora and adds “wall texture and color that resonates with the whitewashed timber ceiling and brick.” The other, an exterior mural splashed across the front facade of the old factory space, nods to the eye-catching supergraphics once prevalent across the formerly industrial DUMBO landscape. It spells out “LIBRARY” in bright orange lettering, making the Adams Street branch, while not the largest, one of the harder-to-miss in the entire BPL system.

Although the Adams Street Library is, as mentioned, the first all-new neighborhood BPL branch to open in nearly 40 years (since 1983 to be exact), the system is currently undergoing a massive overhaul as a considerable number—over a third per the BPL—of existing branch libraries are being rehabilitated and redesigned to meet the evolving needs of its patrons. A much-lauded highlight of the BPL’s ongoing capital improvement crusade is the Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center, a newly constructed facility designed by Marble Fairbanks in collaboration with landscape architect SCAPE that opened in October 2020 to replace an outdated, Carnegie-era library at the site.

view of waterfront building surrounding the manhattan bridge in brooklyn
View of the Adams Street Library from the East River. The new branch is adjacent to the northern section of Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Gregg Richards)

“Libraries have always been an integral part of community engagement, and since the onset of COVID-19, their importance has only grown,” said New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who serves as chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries and is also a long-time employee of the Queens Public Library system. “To see this renaissance and know that our library systems are expanding and modernizing for future generations is truly inspiring.”

Funding for the Adams Street Library was provided by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Stephen Levin, the New York State Education Department, and with, as mentioned, $1 million from the redevelopment of Brooklyn Heights Library.