News & Publication

24 March 2011

Battery Park City Library 1100 ArchitectBattery Park City Library - 1100 Architect

About 40 years ago, bedrock and dirt were excavated to build the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. That soil established the foundation for a 92-acre swath of land where the mixed-use neighborhood of Battery Park City was built. Landfill reuse is a fitting beginning for a planned community that today has become one of the greenest in America, due to stringent environmental guidelines developed in 1999 and implemented by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA). It is appropriate that the most eco-friendly branch of the 89 public libraries of the New York system would be built here. While the residents in this surprisingly leafy neighborhood have their share of parks, offices, restaurants, and water views, they sorely needed a library.

Designed by 1100 Architect and completed in 2010, the Battery Park City Library occupies the bottom two floors of the northeast corner of a 32-story residential tower called Riverhouse, completed the same year by Polshek Partnership (recently renamed Ennead Architects). In addition to the library, two other nonprofits — Poets House and Mercy Corps — occupy portions of the ground floor of the horseshoe-shaped building. As part of an “amenity program,” the BPCA leases space to nonprofits for $1 a year, a bargain by any measure. Still, the nonprofits have to raise money for construction. “Commitments by councilmen and City Hall, and a substantial donation from Goldman Sachs, were the tipping points that allowed the library to move forward,” says Juergen Riehm, who, along with David Piscuskas, is a partner at the 37-person, 28-year-old 1100 Architect.

Fortunately, the design of Riverhouse was still underway when the library project began. “We were able to convince the developer to modify the facade design to have the library’s frontage wrap around the corner as a double-height glass element, making it really visible and maximizing light coming in and views going out,” says Riehm. This vaulted space became the defining feature of the 10,500-square-foot library, soaring above the street corner to establish a distinctive and inviting presence.

Once inside, visitors discover how the library wraps around an outdoor courtyard, an extension of Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Teardrop Park, which opened a few years before. Windows that overlook the landscape create a link to the outdoors, while the curved plan establishes two main areas on the library’s first floor. The area to the left of the entry accommodates the adult and young adult collections, multimedia, and computer stations, tucked behind a welcoming information and checkout area. To the right, the children’s section occupies the brightly lit double-height street frontage.

A dramatic winding stair serves as a modern sculptural element in the main library space and connects the ground floor to the mezzanine level, where the architects located an event space and reading rooms. Under the sweeping belly of the stair, an intimate seating area covered in orange fabric defines the edge of the children’s library and introduces a touch of color that is picked up in other spaces. Color and navigational cues establish easy-to-follow circulation patterns for people visiting the library for the first time. “The architecture intuitively suggests wayfinding systems through visual connections,” says Riehm.

Since the apartments above the library required space for plumbing lines, 1100 Architect devised an irregularly vaulted ceiling over the two wings of the library that radiate out from the central core like an asymmetrical umbrella.

“To accentuate this dynamic we designed a ceiling with a topography that becomes a unifying element throughout the space,” explains Riehm. “We inserted off-the-shelf fluorescent fixtures into ‘slash cuts’ in the triangulated ceiling, turning a design element into a functional one.”

Today’s libraries cannot simply contain stacks and reading rooms. They must also address the vastly different ways people receive and view information. The Battery Park City Library provides automated checkout, Wi-Fi, computer workstations, an area fit out for multimedia presentations, and a digital dashboard that monitors and displays the facility’s real-time energy performance. The architects employed a number of sustainable design elements including energy-efficient lighting, low- and non-VOC finishes, dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and numerous recycled materials. They also specified floors made from gray-stained reclaimed fir end-grain discarded from window manufacturers and carpet made from recycled tires. When Riverhouse completes the paperwork, both the library and building will be on track to receive LEED Gold certification.

An area of contrasts, Lower Manhattan serves as home to numerous financial institutions, a mixed-use residential community, and a place where tourists come to pay respects to Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center. This indelible reminder of the fragility of buildings — and the people who occupy them — is an apt juxtaposition to the optimism and resilience evident in Battery Park City’s new community library.