Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Library That Most Can Only Dream Of
Story by Ariel Kaminer
Published: New York Times, March 26, 2010

A SHOWCASE -  Hyunsuk Lee, a resident of Battery Park City, and her daughter Audrey at the new library, which has low-energy lighting and modern furnishings. Photo by Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

You, over there, mouthing off about the death of print. Keep it down; this is a library. Not just any library: This is Battery Park City’s public library branch, the city’s newest, greenest one yet, and it’s quite a sight to behold.

To the left as you enter is an ecologically correct circulation desk made — though you’d never know it — from recycled cardboard, and topped with a bouquet of fresh tulips. Should you find a crowd, try the sleek self-service stations a couple of steps away. Some of the library’s 36 Internet-connected computers lie just around the bend. Overhead, a jigsaw puzzle of scalene triangles zigs and zags along the ceiling.

Follow it back past the entrance to the children’s zone, a playful arrangement of orange beanbag chairs, orange screen savers and an orange mat that curves up under the terrazzo staircase (made of recycled glass chips, of course) to create a lounging nook that feels like the inside of a conch shell.

Instead of the comforting mustiness of older libraries, the whole space is filled with oxygen and light, streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows and bouncing off the blond wood floors (made from lumber salvaged during the manufacturing of window frames, thank you). “They wanted as much as possible for this branch to be a showcase for how pleasant and how interesting a branch can be,” said Tim Furzer, who oversaw the project for the firm 1100 Architect. It worked.

Atop those sculptural stairs, in an area carpeted with a material made from repurposed truck tires, visitors can peruse magazines and newspapers, use the restroom (at my neighborhood library, it’s off limits to adults) or just relax as the sound of young laughter floats up from below. Gaze out at the landscaped terrace and, beyond, the Hudson River.

The existence of this beautiful 10,000-square-foot library, which opened on March 18, prompts so many questions: How could such state-of-the-art technologies be marshaled in service of the old-fashioned act of book reading? How could such fancy design be affordable in an era of wrenching budget crises? And in choosing where to build the coolest, greenest new branch around, why pick Battery Park City, a neighborhood already so blessed with amenities?
Full story at NYT.

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