Written by Kylie Warkentin
On November 15, the New York Public Library unveiled a $317 million master plan to renovate its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd street in Manhattan.
This plan, unanimously approved by the Library’s Board of Trustees, includes an approximate 20% increase in public space intended for research, exhibitions, and educational programs, as reported by Publishers Weekly.
Also included in the master plan is a redistribution of public and research space. This action groups public events and exhibitions together on the ground floor while quieter research-oriented events take place on the upper floors. Through the additions of a new staircase and elevator, among other things, the plan emphasizes improved circulation of people, goods, and collections throughout the building.
A previous plan, named the Central Library Plan, was rejected in 2014 after a public outcry and three lawsuits over the proposed drastic changes to the emblematic building. As New York Magazine reports, critics claimed these changes were made without transparency. By contrast, this new plan—developed by architecture firms Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle—was created in part by utilizing feedback from the public via meetings, surveys, and smaller group discussions. New York Public Library President Tony Marx also assured the public that the master plan was created to be “more respectful” of the original Beaux-Arts architecture, reports the New York Times.
“We have developed a Master Plan that inherently adheres to the logic of a Beaux-Arts building,” affirms Mecanoo’s Francine Houben. “Our changes are both subtle and clever—to direct the flow for different user groups, for example, or to improve the quality and function of currently underused spaces.”
This new plan, however, does not propose any change to the library’s central stacks—an issue critics found particularly distasteful in the previous Central Library Plan, which proposed repurposing the seven floors that hold the library’s vast shelving. Library officials instead announced that Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle had been commissioned to do a study “examining possibilities” for the 175,000-squre-foot-space. Once those possible scenarios are identified, the public will have the “opportunity to provide feedback.”