On Wednesday (Nov. 15), the New York Public Library officially unveiled a new $317 million “master plan” for the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the NYPL’s crown jewel located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Library officials say the plan, which was unanimously approved by the NYPL board, will create 20% more public space for research, exhibitions, and educational programs.
“For over a century, the Schwarzman Building has been a beacon of open access to information and a tireless preservationist of the world’s knowledge,” said New York Public Library president Tony Marx, in a statement. “We have a responsibility to preserve its architectural wonder, and its role as an important civic space, while also preparing it for the future, and another century of best serving the public. We believe this plan does just that.”
A public presentation on the master plan is set for, November 20, at 5 p.m. in the Schwarzman Building’s Celeste Auditorium. Marx told reporters that virtually all of the money for the project has been raised from private donations.
The plan is the NYPL’s second recent shot at overhauling its famous main library, after library officials in 2014 were forced to abandon a controversial renovation, dubbed the Central Library Plan, that would have drastically altered the iconic main library building and critics say, could have greatly altered the future of NYPL as an institution.
The fight over that plan, which also included plans to sell off some key NYPL real estate, was chronicled in Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library (Melville House), by Nation writer Scott Sherman (which recently came out in paperback).
The new plan was developed by Dutch architectural firm Mecanoo, and New York City-based firm Beyer Blinder Belle.
In a statement, Mecanoo’s Francine Houben said the latest design “inherently adheres to the logic of a Beaux-Arts building,” and will “improve the quality and function of currently underused spaces.” The building’s “existing historic spaces” such as the landmarked Rose Main Reading Room, and the Maps, Periodicals, and Genealogy reading rooms, and Astor Hall, will remain.
Notably, the plan does not propose any changes to the library’s central stacks—a particular point of contention in the NYPL’s previous, failed effort, which had proposed repurposing the seven floors that house the library’s massive shelving. Instead, NYPL officials have commissioned Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle to do a study “examining possibilities for the 175,000-square-foot space.”
That study, will evaluate both the current state of the stacks, and then “with input from a broad range of stakeholders, including staff, architects, and a group of non-Library advisors and planners, identify options for the space." Once those "possible scenarios are identified," officials say, "the public will have the opportunity to provide feedback."