After $200M overhaul, NYPL’s central circulating library opens in Midtown with public rooftop terrace

June 4, 2021

Photo © John Bartelstone courtesy of Mecanoo, Beyer Blinder Belle, New York Public Library

The New York Public Library this week opened a new central circulating library in Midtown following a major $200 million renovation project. Located at 455 Fifth Avenue, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) was built within the shell and steel frame of the existing building formerly known as the Mid-Manhattan Library. Designed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo in collaboration with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, the new 180,000 square foot library boasts a dramatic light-filled atrium and an incredible rooftop terrace, which is now the only free and publicly accessible rooftop in Midtown.

Photo © Max Touhey courtesy of the New York Public Library

Photo © Max Touhey courtesy of the New York Public Library

Clad in limestone with a granite base, the building was built in 1914 as the Arnold Constable & Co. department store. The NYPL occupied the building beginning in the 1970s, which was the last time it had been renovated. The library first announced plans to officially turn the former retail space into a library in 2014.

Following over a year of researching library usage and meeting with staff, the teams at Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle came up with a way to design a light-filled branch with modern upgrades that also complements the Beaux-Arts style of the library’s neighboring Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Features at the new SNFL are reminiscent of the Rose Main Reading Room, like massive long tables, ceiling artwork, and use of natural stone, oak, and terrazzo.

Photo © Max Touhey courtesy of the New York Public Library

Photo © John Bartelstone courtesy of the New York Public Library

“The comprehensive renovation will allow the building to serve New Yorkers well for another hundred years,” Elizabeth Leber, managing partner at Beyer Blinder Belle, said. “And it’s deeply meaningful to us to give the building new life rather than tear it down. More than 75 percent of the structure and envelope was retained. As preservationists, architects, and champions of New York City and public libraries, we couldn’t support NYPL’s decision to invest in the building more.”

The project allowed book capacity to increase to 400,000 materials, the largest capacity for circulating materials in the NYPL system, and doubled available seating. One of the most significant changes included the “Long Room,” which includes five levels of browsable book stacks fronting the 42-foot high atrium.

SNFL is now home to the largest adult learning center and a lower-level space dedicated totally to children and young adults. On this floor, there are child-sized furniture, podcasting studios, reading nooks, and a conveyor belt book sorter for returned books.

Photo © John Bartelstone courtesy of the New York Public Library

Photo © Max Touhey courtesy of the New York Public Library

The new public roof terrace features a flexible conference and event center, which opens out onto the L-shaped roof terrace that includes a garden and cafe. According to the library, it’s the only roof terrace that is free and open to the public in Midtown.

The architects also designed a new slanting “Wizard Hat” roof element that holds the building’s mechanical equipment. The unique structure is painted to resemble a patinated copper-clad mansard roof, a Beaux-Arts design popular in the area.

“The transformed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library shows our city is coming back better than ever before,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “The City invested in this landmark institution because we know it will be a place to connect New Yorkers to each other and to the world beyond our city. This is what a Recovery for All of Us looks like.”

Because coronavirus protocols remain in place at the library, there are no in-person programs and as of now the Pasculano Learning Center and rooftop terrace are closed.


All photos by Max Touhey or John Bartelstone courtesy of the New York Public Library


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