Kew Gardens Hills Library
Queens, NY, USA
Work Architecture Company
Leslie E. Robertson Associates (Structural Engineer) LILKER Associates (MEP Engineer) ADS Engineers (Leed Specialist) Tillotson Design Associates (Lighting Designer) CCBS Consulting (Code Consultant)
Along the 10,000 SF library’s outward-facing facades, a green strip is lifted to make an articulated green roofscape, which reads as a continuation of the gardens on the back sides of the building. Inside, this perimeter zone is a series of spaces of differing heights and architectural qualities, wrapping the lower-ceilinged core of bookstacks and services. It is programmed as spaces for each of the library’s user groups—children, teens, and adults—along with a special Judaic Studies reference section, the book return, and offices for the librarians. The articulated roofscape distinguishes these areas from one another: touching the ground to provide privacy for the teens and back of house spaces, lifting up to give the library a sense of monumentality at its most public corner, and lifting again at the kids’ corner to provide child-size views to the south. Over the entrance, the façade folds up to make an awning—reminiscent of a folded page in a book. The façade is made from custom glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels with rippled, curtain-like folds, and it acts as a 200-foot-long structural beam, resting on just two columns. Beneath, large storefront windows provide direct natural light, while south- and east-facing clerestory windows provide indirect light that bounces off of the exposed concrete of the lifted facade.
Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, is a diverse neighborhood with a large Orthodox Jewish community as well as smaller black, Latino, Afgani, Korean, Chinese, and Indian enclaves. The branch library there is a key civic institution—the only one that serves all of these groups together. The library’s site is just removed from the busy commercial corridor of Kew Gardens Hills Main Street. Although visible from Main Street’s shops and cafes, the library’s immediate context is a residential fabric of two-story brick rowhouses. An important impetus for WORKac’s design was to create a facade that inspired a sense of civic monumentality at its main corner while also mediating between this public corner and the residential scale of the surrounding streets. The design strives to project a unique, contemporary image for the neighborhood that is also welcoming and enduring. WORKac worked closely with the Kew Gardens Hills community from early in the design process. Not only were users of the library enthusiastic about the prospect of a new building; they also fully embraced the design’s contemporary aesthetics as their own—and as an apt expression of an age-old institution reinvented for a diverse twenty-first century community.
The library serves more than five hundred visitors a day, making it one of the busiest branches in the Queens Library system. In the morning and early afternoon, it sees a stream of parents and grandparents bringing young kids in strollers. Toddlers are delighted by the low sliver of window at the kids’ corner—perfectly designed for their height. The kids’ corner has the excitement of a playroom, while the rest of the children’s section maintains a quieter atmosphere, with kids and adults reading together. On the other side of the library, older residents sit in the sun-drenched main reading area, perusing the newspaper as if sitting on a porch, looking out at passers-by through the high storefront windows. Teens drop by after school. Some enjoy people-watching in the front reading area, while many choose to study in small groups in the quiet and relative privacy of the teens’ area at the library’s northeast corner. A simple space at the back of the library is perhaps the most important part of the project: a flexible community room with a kitchenette and furniture storage. With the new space, the library is able to host frequent reading groups, classes, community meetings, and social events. The library is able to accommodate a substantially larger collection than its predecessor, with 40,000 books, DVDs, CDs, and manuals, and 120 periodicals and newspaper. It has circulated 117,840 items in the 4 months since opening—an average of two for every resident of Kew Gardens Hills.