Inside Queens Public Library's New Jewel Box at Hunters Point | Editorial

The people of Queens can stop waiting and start using their brand new Hunters Point Community Library. And they should. The 22,000 square foot building, which opened September 24 after long delays and a cost of over $40 million, is a major investment that is likely to be intensely used and long enjoyed.

The people of Queens can stop waiting and start using their brand new Hunters Point Community Library. And they should. The 22,000 square foot building, which opened September 24 after long delays and a cost of over $40 million, is a jewel box. It’s a major investment that is likely to be intensely used and long enjoyed.

It’s also impressive. I toured it a few days prior to its opening as boxes were being opened and books shelved. Some work was yet to be done—one of my favorite stages in a building project. The promise is undeniable. Packed with services, unique spaces, and artful design touches, it offers an uplifting, visceral experience. Beyond the many core services, it provides members of the public with their own riverside perch. Expansive views of the East River and New York City skyline from many levels inside are topped by an astounding stepped rooftop terrace.

Like a jewel box, this sculpted concrete structure holds more than seems possible at first glance. Layers of new services are nested in spaces found around the next bend or up on the next level. It has a large meeting room with a stage, tech, a dedicated teen area, a lovely bi-level children’s space, meeting spaces, and more. It is also intentionally book rich—the open atrium provides views of reading terraces that hold and celebrate the collection and provide varied seating. It’s a fun space, playful and surprising, and full of textures and warm tones.

“I call it the community living room,” said Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott. “Experiences extend outside due to the connection with the park and the river.”

That relationship to the outdoors and the visual connection to Manhattan’s skyline is a singular aspect of this public space—it’s quite a living room.

Getting there was no small task. Along the way, the branch had a serious advocate on city council in Jimmy Van Bramer, who walks the talk that libraries are key infrastructure worth investing in. “All of these things didn’t exist in this community” before the library opened, he said, reflecting on the building, collection, spaces, and range of innovative services and offerings that will make Hunters Point hum. “Everything here simply didn’t exist unless we made the investment.” That investment of public dollars, he noted, advances libraries and uplifts society, through what he called “monuments” to learning and community.

There is good reason to make that kind of statement through great design. Libraries are awesome, and hold endless potential. That is worth celebrating in spaces that evoke and inspire that potential. Such spaces declare the exceptional value of libraries to our society, and say “this is for all of us.”

Van Bramer, who has a background in libraries, offered encouragement for library leaders considering projects. The takeaway, he said, “is to go big, to be ambitious, not to settle for something that is not significant. We should go and build something special.”

Something special indeed has been built. I’ll be back to see it in use by the public and to observe how the area around it is transformed by the arrival of this new hub for community life.

[Note: Soon after this article posted, serious and justified concerns about accessibility in the Hunters Point Library design were raised, pointing to the importance of universal design. See LJ’s coverage to understand the issues and the library’s response to date.--RTM]

 

VIEW SLIDESHOW

During a walkthrough prior to opening, Steven Holl Architects Senior Associate Olaf Schmidt, NYC Department of Design and Construction Deputy Commissioner for Public Buildings Thomas Foley, QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott, Hunters Point Library Manager Euni Chang, and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer showed the space and answered questions. Highlights include expansive views through a window that creates multiple frames for this book rich environment; unique reading terraces that house the collection and showcase materials, adding color and richness to the space; a bi-level, light-filled children’s area that encourages movement to a between it and a computer zone via a staircase amphitheater that also serves as a setting for story times or just perching; a Cyber Center on the fourth floor reveals itself as you approach from the stairs, offering an eyebrow view of the river and Manhattan; penthouse views for teens from a fifth floor space just for them; a stunning stepped roof deck; and many details, including interactive pieces by artist Julianne Swartz such as “Northeast Multiplied,” which can be experienced from both sides near the main entrance. (Photos by Rebecca T. Miller)
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Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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