New York Public Library’s $200 Million Renovation Is Not What You’d Expect


A home away from home to millions of New Yorkers of all ages, the New York Public Library remains one of those classic institutions at the heart of the city. To this day, it is perhaps best known for the iconic Beaux-Arts façade of its Stephen A Schwarzman flagship location, built by Carrère and Hastings in the late 1800s. Though as of this week, the striking renovation of the neighboring outpost on 40th Street and Fifth Avenue—formerly known as the Mid-Manhattan Library—is a serious new contender.

On June 1 a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiled the brand-new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library to the public. The $200 million transformation includes 180,000 square feet of space with an increase in public seating areas, a whole floor dedicated to children, a new business center, a learning center, and last but definitely not least: a new rooftop terrace.

Visitors are greeted by a red carpet upon entry.

Before embarking on the project, Dutch architect Francine Houben from the firm Mecanoo (responsible for the renovation of the historic Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.) made sure to do extensive research on the former space. Interviewing staff, surveying the public, and analyzing library data usage made it clear that much of the previous layout was underused and sunlight-deficient.

The new renovation opens up the space with a 43-foot-high atrium upon entry. The rooftop is open to the public, with a glass-enclosed conference center, cafe, and garden terrace just in time for summer. Other exciting new additions include a podcasting studio on the floor for children and teens, and a learning center for adult education classes.

The new “Wizard Hat” roof addition, illuminated at night.

Despite the strikingly modern renovation, many of the details tie the building back to its Beaux-Arts origins. The new slanting “Wizard Hat” roof structure, for instance, draws from the copper Mansard roofs integral to the Beaux-Arts period and mimics those frequently seen around Midtown. In the interior, influence shows in way of travertine marble wall cladding and bronze shelves, carrying the historic NYPL aesthetic into the new age.

“All of us at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation are truly honored to have been asked to contribute to this great project for the city and the people of New York and beyond,” Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, tells AD. He calls the building “a truly public space, accessible to all, on the front line of further empowering NYPL to deliver its mission of providing lifelong learning to all and strengthening our sense of community.”

Although some parts of the building remain closed due to COVID restrictions, visitors can now head to the first five floors to check out some of the 400,000 books housed in the new space.

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