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NY Public Library Drops Controversial Makeover of Flagship Building

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 7, 2014

A rendering of Foster+Partners' now scrapped redesign of the New York Public Library's central research building (image via designlike.com)

A rendering of Foster+Partners’ now scrapped redesign of the New York Public Library’s central research building (image via designlike.com)

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has done an about-face on its controversial plan to renovate its flagship research building on 42nd Street and sell the nearby building that currently houses its Mid-Manhattan library, the New York Times has repoted. Under the now scrapped Central Library Plan, the stacks in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building would have been eliminated, with books moved across the Hudson River to a storage facility in New Jersey. That vacated space was to be transformed by British architect Norman Foster; designs released in late 2012 included visions of a new four-level atrium housing a circulating library, computers, and a cafe. The NYPL’s mid-Manhattan branch and its Science, Industry and Business Library on 34th Street would have been sold to help fund the renovation. The Central Library Plan drew scathing opposition from writers and scholars worried about the loss of their beloved research institution (some of whom filed lawsuits in attempts to stop the plan), and from critics; New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman wrote, “The designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall,” and questioned the cost of the renovation. (Vanity Fair has a fairly comprehensive history of the controversy.)

Under the new plan announced today, the NYPL will keep the stacks in the Schwarzman building, while “there will be improvements made to open up more public space” there, the Times writes. The science museum will still be leased or sold, but the mid-Manhattan branch will no longer close; instead, it will be renovated in stages. The paper cites three reasons for the sudden turnaround: higher cost estimates than expected for the plan (the original estimate was $300 million), a new mayor (Mayor de Blasio was not a fan), and public feedback. The Times characterizes the news as “something of a defeat for the library.”

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