2022

MCHAP

Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center

Marble Fairbanks Architects

Brooklyn, United States

October 2020

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Marble Fairbanks Architects

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

SCAPE Landscape Architecture, ads Engineers DPC, Robert Silman Associates, Tillotson Design Associates, Cosentini Associates

CLIENT

Ames O'Neill, Brooklyn Public Library

PHOTOGRAPHER

Michael Moran, Michael Moran Photography, Inc.

OBJECTIVE

Providing engaging and greatly expanded civic space, both inside and out, the Greenpoint Library is a 15,000sf community hub for environmental awareness, activism, and education. Partially funded by a Legacy Grant from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, this project is the result of active engagement between Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and the community. BPL required the new building to double the size of the previous building, provide exterior space for the public and patrons, and integrate community interest in environmental education into the design. Beyond the goals of serving as a site for discovery, information access, and community support, it was imperative that this branch demonstrate sustainable design principles. A community advisory committee was formed early in the process, and their input was essential to the programming and design of the building.

The project is in a neighborhood with limited outdoor green space, so the massing of the building was developed to maximize opportunities for landscape to be integral to the experience of the building at all three levels. The building exceeded the goal to meet LEED Gold and is targeting LEED Platinum.

The project includes reading rooms and collections for children, teens, and adults; community spaces for large community-based events and environmental workshops; and exterior spaces for community teaching and learning. The teen space and community meeting spaces accommodate hands-on experimentation in a laboratory-like environment with counters, sinks, and digital tools and, along with the lounge on the second floor, direct connection to the outdoor reading garden.

CONTEXT

The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center is located in a community with a significant history of industrial development, toxic waste, and environmental activism. The first library on this site was a 1906 Carnegie library. After years of neglect, it was demolished and a new "Lindsay box" library was built on the site in 1973. Soon after the library opened, a 30-million-gallon oil spill was discovered in Newtown Creek, polluting over 100 acres of Greenpoint, compounding the impact of years of industrial pollution and leaks by neighboring factories. In 2010 Newtown Creek was designated a Superfund site, and in 2011 the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund was created to manage a $19.5 million grant program. In 2014, the community voted to support this new branch library with a $5 million grant. Hired in 2015, we began robust community engagement and library programming. In 2017 we started construction, and in 2020 we celebrated the ribbon cutting.

Greenpoint is one of over 60 neighborhood branches of Brooklyn Public Library. With the ambition “to create environmental stewards and nature lovers out of future generations of New Yorkers,” moments highlighting environmental awareness are integrated throughout the interior and exterior spaces of the building. The outdoor landscape provides habitats for native birds and pollinators and bioswales for stormwater retention, minimizing combined sewer overflow events. Water is also collected on an upper roof, stored in a visible cistern, and accessed by community members to water the raised-bed community gardens.

PERFORMANCE

The project models new partnerships and unique, community-driven goals in public library planning – pairing state-of-the-art library services with community spaces for environmental education-related activities. A demonstration for innovative approaches to sustainable design, the library also promotes community social and cultural sustainability through its newly expanded programming.

Visual connections to the street draw the community inside and provide abundant natural light and views throughout the interior. Children and adults have unique reading and collection spaces on the ground floor, adjacent to a centrally located stair to teens and an open lounge area on the upper level. The large community event space can be subdivided to host various activities.

Opening during the pandemic, the outdoor spaces are highly valued and creatively programmed. The street-level civic space is a front porch for the community, a place for informal uses and public gatherings. The reading garden hosts storytime, book talks and sewing classes. The demonstration garden provides food for the community and programming ranging from pickling to stargazing.

Environmental features are highlighted with educational signage such as: sandblasted wood panels developed with a local artisan and used to cast concrete panels on the facades; solar panels, building systems, and energy usage; windows aligned with the equinoxes and solstices; and integral landscape features. Part of a multiscalar ecosystem – the library supports its own local ecology, is part of a neighborhood cohered around activism, is critical social infrastructure in New York City, and is related to regional and national efforts to remedy toxic environments