ELMHURST COMMUNITY LIBRARY | New York | 2016
Architects: Marpillero Pollak Architects
Client: Queens Borough Public Library
General Contractor: Stalco Construction, Inc.
Photographers: Marpillero Pollak Architects
With 80,000+ users, speaking more than 57 languages, Elmhurst is the second busiest circulating library in Queens Library’s (QL) network of 64 branches. It is the largest outcome of the NYC-DDC Design Excellence Program for small firms, replacing a 1904 Carnegie library with a new 30,500 sf building that fulfills QL’s mission of access, transparency, and technology. Two floors of the building are devoted to library use, the other two function as a community center accessible after-hours through a separate entrance and stair, whose extra-wide landings provide opportunities for social interaction. As a truly public institution, the library represents a neighborhood anchor and a community hub. The library’s Z-shaped massing maximizes the impact of the existing Community Park, now fully preserved, and new Learning Garden visually opened to a stand of mature oaks at the urban block interior. The building integrates inside and outside by extending the streetscape through a main circulation spine that passes through its transparent center, linking together 13,000sf of landscaped grounds, including a secluded meandering path and green roofs. To reinforce the library’s significance as a public institution, its program spaces cater to diverse age groups with spaces for Early Childhood, Children, Teens, and Adult Learning, with ESOL Classrooms and a Community Meeting Space open after hours. Each program space is distinguished by sculptural thresholds that act as color-coded “Portals” contributing to identity, supporting orientation, and stimulating interaction among diverse users, towards new synergies. The project has been selected as a case study for the implementation of NYC Active Design Guidelines, facilitating physical activity in support of health and well-being. The building’s exterior envelope is a terracotta rain-screen with aluminum inserts marking floor slabs and integrating the rhythm of windows. Stainless steel panels articulate volumes of curtain wall emerging from this (relatively) solid wrapper, which also performs as a backdrop for the Cubes --suspended structural glass reading rooms that position patrons in the larger environment: one above an urban thoroughfare, and one within the Community Park. The Cubes, which glow as luminous beacons after dark, are calibrated to relate to the scale of existing historical fabric, including the 1776 St James’s Hall visible across Broadway. The Park Cube makes legible the operations of the library’s two main floors, with a monumental stair grounded by a bookshelf, and built with folded steel steps supported by a truss/railing. The Broadway Cube is visible from afar, announcing the library’s presence; it floats above the Main Entry and book depository, made with bricks salvaged from the original Carnegie building. The Broadway Cube also puts on display the large installation of 955 solid elm wood “Shapes” by artist Allan McCollum, a collaboration generated through the NYC Percent for Art program. This artwork’s systemic approach is made evident in the library’s main circulation stairs and elevators, displaying its elements’ logic of assembly whose resulting vocabulary invite people to consider themselves as participants in a larger community, celebrating their similarities and differences as individual patrons of the building’s conceptual and social agenda.