See inside Long Island City’s new public library designed by Steven Holl Architects

September 25, 2019

Photo © Paul Warchol

Despite standing just 82 feet tall, the new Hunters Point Library manages to stand out among its skyscraper neighbors on the Long Island City waterfront. The concrete structure, designed by Steven Holl Architects, officially opened to the public Tuesday, about two decades after officials proposed building a new Queens Public Library branch. The delays, and the whopping $40 million price tag, appear to have been worth it, as the building, with its carved windows and incredible skyline views, continues to garner approval from top architecture critics.

Painted in aluminum, the exterior of the concrete building is designed to subtly sparkle, according to the architects. Glazed cuts in the facade follow the movement of the stairs, which face the East River, the United Nations, and beyond.

Inside, light bamboo interiors and natural light brighten the space. Despite its compact footprint, at just 32,000 square feet, Hunters Point Library still provides three separate, although flexible, sections for children, teens, and adults. Flanked by shelves books, the staircase leads to each level, ending on a landscaped rooftop with a reading garden.

Photo © Steven Holl Architects

Photo © Steven Holl Architects

New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman called the library “among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.” In a review, Justin Davidson, architecture critic for New York Magazine, wrote that he would “introduce first-time visitors to the concept of Manhattan” at the larger river-facing window.

“From this vantage point, only a couple dozen feet above the ground, a space that an oligarch might covet but that’s free and open to the public, you can see the sweep of the East River, where Jet Skis and the occasional seaplane have replaced the barge traffic of a century ago; the industrial relics of Gantry Plaza State Park; the idealistic modernism of the United Nations; and the finest skyline that capitalism has wrought,” Davidson wrote, describing the stunning views.

The path to architectural greatness did not come easily. The architects first unveiled its design for the building in 2011, with plans to open the library in 2014. However, construction did not start until 2015 after the city was forced to increase the project’s ballooning budget to secure a contractor.

Construction halted again in 2017 after a strike in Spain delayed the shipment of specialized glass needed. More financial struggles delayed the project last summer, which ended up moving the opening date from last February to this month.

Hunters Point Library contains 50,000 books, quiet rooms, and a community room with a 200-person capacity. As reported last week, the library will house the Hunters Point Environmental Education Center, which will offer STEM classes and workshops focused on marine life, composting, climate change, and other environment-related topics.

The Hunters Point Library is the newest branch added to the Queens Public Library system since the Court Square location opened in 2007.

“It is an honor to imagine and realize this community library, a free open public building where people can interact across generations,” architect Steven Holl said in a press release. “We hope it is a gift to this great city and its future children.”


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