“Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.
Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.
It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?
Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water.
On dark days and evenings, its enormous, eccentric windows will act like inviting beacons of light, attracting eyes and feet. They carve whimsical jigsaw puzzle pieces out of a cool, silvered-concrete facade.
That facade is a load-bearing structure, allowing the library’s liberated interior to spiral some 60 feet upward and outward from a shallow canyon-like lobby, unfolding in elevation as a sequence of tiered desks, book stacks and social spaces. The inside is mostly warm bamboo, with spectacular views.
Outside, there’s a lovely new triangular ginkgo garden, a kind of mini-Place Dauphine, by Michael Van Valkenburgh. For a growing, diverse community, the whole project is an instant boon and a locus of neighborhood pride for Long Island City.
At Hunters Point, construction workers were putting the finishing touches on the ground-floor community room when I visited; cushy furniture had been moved into the sunny teen area, smartly quarantined on an upper story and partly cordoned off with glass, to buffer sound.
Chairs at the adult desks are by Jean Prouvé. They’re by Aalto in the big, two-story children’s wing, on the south end of the building, cozily nestled inside a bamboo-paneled sling bulging over the lobby. The children’s wing is among the nicest and most artful spaces I have seen in any new library building. A big eyelid window, beautifully sculptured, on the wing’s second floor frames a killer view over Gantry Plaza State Park, with Manhattan in the background.
From the lobby I climbed the zigzagging stairs that trace the funny, lively, meandering incision cut into the library’s west wall by the huge central window overlooking Manhattan, the stairs ascending past stepped tiers of desks and upper floors that seem to float as if in midair. As the building rises there is a constant shifting of forms and views, a weightlessness and dynamism. The staircase summits on a roof terrace with bleachers overlooking the city.
New York deserves an engaged and mindful government that grasps the virtues of good design and what it can do for communities. ‘When it is good,’ as the critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote half a century ago, ‘this is a city of fantastic strength, sophistication and beauty.’
It is the sort of city that produces public buildings of substance and whimsy like Hunters Point library. And doesn’t take decades and squander fortunes to do so.”
– Michael Kimmelman
Read the full article at The New York Times.
Photo © Iwan Baan