Situated at street level of a high-rise residential building, the New York Public Library’s Battery Park City branch reads more like a family activity center to passersby—which was the intention of its designer, 1100 Architect. “A library used to be a completely quiet environment, but nowadays, it’s much more dynamic and filled with not only books, but also programming for the community,” says Juergen Riehm, principal of the New York–based architecture firm. This is evident thanks to low bookshelves in lieu of tall stacks, opening the space and affording views of the library’s bold colors and sweeping staircase through a fully glazed facade.
Once inside the library’s entrance, a terrazzo path leads to a sculptural staircase, which is the focal point of the space. Constructed of cast concrete and steel, the stairs are covered with the same terrazzo to visually extend the walkway and lead visitors to the library’s mezzanine level. The staircase is as functional as it is beautiful, and its grand presence makes it a visual marker for wayfinding. The seemingly carved-out shape on the underside of the staircase offers a unique seating enclave, lined with custom ribbed padding. The nook is also informational, with a flat touch-screen offering data from the local weather to how much energy is being consumed by the library at that moment.
Sustainability was a driving factor in the project, with the aim of making it the most eco-friendly New York Public Library branch. The space’s energy is purchased from a green utility, and the open plan and low furnishings allow ample daylight to reach deep within the interior spaces. The daylight is supplemented by energy-efficient fluorescent tube lights with a handful of incandescent bulbs that are controlled by a daylight sensor. In addition to terrazzo, flooring includes rubber and a product composed of end-grain fir waste that has been reclaimed from window manufacturing. Sustainable furniture includes select bookcases made from FSC-certified plywood and others constructed from recycled steel. 1100 Architect refinished the latter with recycled plastic end panels painted various colors as another method of wayfinding; teal-blue marks the toddler zone and orange marks young adults, for example. The same material tops the custom checkout desk that has a base composed of a recycled-paper product.
Visually engaging details have a purpose. The ground floor’s ceiling topography, for instance, features triangular panels hung at different angles, concealing building systems. “Rather than giving up ceiling height by using a flat ceiling, we pushed up areas where we were able to,” says Riehm. Ascending to the mezzanine level, visitors encounter custom dot pattern–perforated MDF. The 1½-inch-diameter holes cleverly allow ceiling-concealed machinery to ventilate and cool off.
Area residents lobbied for this first Battery Park City branch, not just for access to reading materials, but for community programs. 1100 Architect addressed this by using smaller-scale bookcases, slim tables, and lightweight seating that can be rearranged as needed. Riehm states, “Just as we would talk about flexibility in retail, we do also in libraries now as institutions change and newer technologies become available.”