Snøhetta reveals a tree-inspired design for the new Westchester Square Library in New York’s “greenest” borough

Green with Envy

Snøhetta reveals a tree-inspired design for the new Westchester Square Library in New York’s “greenest” borough

The glass frit pattern on the facade mimics the Westchester Square Library’s leafy surroundings. (© Snøhetta & LMNB)

Glazing across the facade of the new Westchester Square Library, unveiled today by Snøhetta, takes cues from the arboreal quality of New York’s northernmost and “greenest” borough. With a series of classrooms, reading rooms, and community spaces, the library will bring a host of community- and research-oriented facilities to a site already noted for its literary history.

At 12,000 square feet in size, the new Westchester Square Library will be situated adjacent to the Huntington Free Library, a noncirculating library that opened its doors in 1891 thanks to railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington; in its nearly 130-year-long history, the tiny Bronx institution has amassed a notable collection of books and historical artifacts—also notable was its use during a scene of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

Boxy in form, the new Westchester Square Library is comprised of a concrete base upon which a fritted glass box is perched. The glazed structure dons a striking shade of green and a pattern intended to mimic the treetops of the surrounding blocks. While green in its appearance, the structure is also green in its environmental impact: The glass frit filters sunlight entering the building, reducing the library’s energy consumption, as do the photovoltaic panels on its roof.

To receive additional city funding the library is a test program for the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ (DCAS ) 80×50 initiative, an ambitious goal to reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. In order to achieve that objective, the library and its design must implement systems and operations with better energy performance than that required by the current building code. Among these energy conservation measures is the use of a high-efficiency energy recovery ventilator, which transfers heat/coolness from exhaust air to intake air.

From the street level and the elevated 6 train, passerby will be able to peer inside to view the library’s dedicated youth area. Two classrooms and a community space glance out at the new Viewing Garden, a swath of land with perennial vegetation that blends with the tree-inspired facade ornamentation. Like the building, this landscape contributes to an overall improved environmental impact and acts as a rainwater collection point.

green facade with trees at street level
Westchester Square Library has been designed with sustainability and energy use reduction in mind. (© Snøhetta & LMNB)

“The Viewing Garden provides an understated counterpoint to the surrounding urban landscape,” said Snøhetta Partner and Landscape Architecture Discipline Director Michelle Delk in press release. “As an extension of the library, the Garden absorbs rainwater into a verdant landscape while also bringing light and visual interest to the indoor experience.”

As part of the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program, which brings public art to public projects across the city, a sculpture from Texan artist Shawn Smith relating to native birds will be realized on the upper level.

Westchester Square is, of course, not first library designed by the firm, which famously got its start after winning a competition to realize a new library in Alexandria, Egypt. It also represents an ongoing interest in building in New York, the city where its U.S. operations are based. In addition to working on a library in Queens, the studio is an on-call architect for the DDC’s Project Excellence Program.

“Snøhetta is proud to have worked with DDC on a collection of transformative projects across New York City, from the reconstruction of Times Square to the creation of new branch libraries in Far Rockaway, and now, Westchester Square in the Bronx,” Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta, added. “Over the last 12 years, our team of architects, landscape architects, and interior architects have worked with DDC to enrich the social vitality of local communities through thoughtful designs that will stand the test of time.”