We developed a strategy to help NYC’s branch libraries gain the recognition and funding they need to thrive in the 21st century.
Despite serving 37 million visitors in 2014, nearly four times as much as every major sports stadium in the city combined, libraries in NYC were suffering three challenges. First, the building stock was in significant need of repair after years of deferred maintenance. Second, New York City’s annual budget had no guaranteed funding for libraries, making it nearly impossible to make capital plans. Finally, as the smaller cousins to charismatic central library locations, neighborhood branches struggled to attract third party recognition and support.
Center for an Urban Future and the Architecture League of New York teamed up to bring attention to the connected issues of institutional reform and physical retrofitting. They invited five teams of designers to envision the future of NYC’s branch libraries.
The call asked for an architectural response to what we understood to be an institutional challenge. Recognizing that the problem was larger than available resources, we developed a strategy to move from “actionable” to “imaginable,” with proposals for the role of Leaders, Monuments, and Mechanisms. Specific proposals bring this matrix of possibilities to life.
Our vision was presented at a public forum hosted by CUF and Architecture League as a ‘slow film’ pairing slides and live narration. Printed broadsheet newspapers made it easier for people to take the ideas home with them. The presentation is reproduced in full below. (Warning: quite long. Get a cup of coffee first.)
This is the story of how modest, creative actions taken today can catalyze dramatic transformation in the city tomorrow…
Then something interesting starts to happen. Cultural institutions begin to transform their own programs to engage the expanding library audience. And with these institutions comes their funding. In other words, the small investments the library made in enhancing its own visibility, helped unlock larger pools of capital.
Think of this as institutional leverage.
Radical Maintenance projects directly improve physical infrastructure and resiliency, but they also activate their communities by advancing creativity, innovation, and curiosity.