Steven Holl's Queens Library Opens

John Hill
25. September 2019
All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

The Hunters Point Library, a branch of the Queens Public Library system in New York City, held its public opening on Tuesday, September 24. Located next to the East River, the building was designed by Steven Holl Architects with irregular openings framing views of Midtown Manhattan.

Normally the opening of a branch library in Queens would have little fanfare, but the Hunters Point Library is unique for at least three reasons. First, Steven Holl Architects was hired in July 2010 to design the library, meaning it has taken just over nine years to complete; this is due to primarily to public finances and construction delays. (For reference, ground broke in 2015 and the building topped out three years before opening day.) Second, the 22,000-square-foot building cost more than $40 million dollars to build, equating to around $1,800 per square foot: an extravagance for a branch library. And third, the building is a stunner, called "one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century" by New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman. In person it appears to be worth the wait and expense, and what follows are some photos from our visit on opening day.

A closer look at the west, Manhattan-facing facade reveals how the oddly shaped apertures in the load-bearing, aluminum-painted concrete walls correspond to interior functions, in this case a cascade of book stacks.
The main entrance is located on the east side of the building, where NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local politicians cut the ribbon on Tuesday.
A few steps through the revolving door and both the verticality and complexity of the building are readily apparent.
Next to the atrium on the ground floor is a meeting room with a corner window framing a view of the landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. At left is one of four porthole windows dispersed around the building that make up artist Juilanne Swartz's installation Four Direction from Hunters Point.
Here is the large window seen from outside that follows the angle of the cascading stacks. Though dramatic, the stacks do raise the question of accessibility, since the elevator does not serve the intermediate levels.
Here is the view from the top of the stack cascade to the atrium and the curved bamboo underside of the Children's Room beyond.
Inside the two-story Children's Room, which is secluded from the rest of the library for noise and privacy. Likewise, there are areas for adults and teens on the other side of the atrium.
The view from a bridge above the Children's Room looking across the atrium shows the stack cascade at bottom, the Adult Collection in the middle, and the Teen Area at the very top.
Another view looking across the atrium shows the complexity of the interior spaces but also the tall glass guardrails installed around the atrium for protection.
This last view shows one of the curtains that can block out the western sun so it doesn't damage any of the books in the stack cascade.

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