“Libraries and Architecture, my personal passion and my work life in one article; was this written for me?”

That was the question I asked myself when I read about the architectural design of libraries in today’s digital age in a recent article from Architectural Digest. The article felt so suited to me considering that I work at an architecture firm in New York City.  I’m also an unabashed lover and active user of the New York Public Library so I was instantly intrigued.

In the article, Risa Honig, vice president of capital planning at NYPL, said the library is planning on making “books more of an architectural presence in [their] branches.” I thought what a compelling design statement.  Once I thought about it, that certainly has been the case in homes, where often you can see beautifully equipped libraries or studies with books definitely playing a part in the design, can it be so in public spaces?  

Although society has shifted to reading more ebooks in the digital age, I hope and believe it doesn’t mean physical books are on their way out — they themselves can be a design feature. Instead of having books displayed in typical row-like fashion, homeowners are using books as decorative or statement pieces to provide accents to their spaces.  Many furniture companies have very interesting new styles of bookcases so that you can display your various books, using the color of their binding, or the fonts to give interest to the corner, or wall they inhabit.  I love hearing that libraries are now following suit by incorporating book displays into their design.

For example, downtown Seattle’s public library features books shelved in a four-floor spiral connected by gently sloping ramps. Elsewhere in the world, a library in Norway features book shelves that blend in seamlessly with the designs of the ceiling.


And a library in The Netherlands created a display called “Book Mountain and Library Quarter,” which resembles a mountain of bookshelves contained by a glass-enclosed structure.


To follow, the NYPL will be renovating one of their mid-Manhattan libraries to highlight the plethora of books that are available to check out. “Books create the look and feel for the spaces,” said Honig. “So they’re not only part of the design, they are a key part.”

The redesign will begin this fall and will incorporate more than just arranging books in a visually pleasing manner. The library will also use aspects that have become more demanded by patrons over the years: sitting areas, public space to host events, more outlets, a higher internet capacity, and more natural light will be in the new space.


Photo: Jonathan Blanc / Courtesy of NYPL

These features are at the recently revamped Washington Heights branch and the Stapleton branch in Staten Island. The design includes an open floor plan, plenty of natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a soothing color palette.

However, there is one more important thing to note about the mid-Manhattan library renovation. Once it’s complete, a free rooftop terrace will be available for all patrons to use at their leisure. And outdoor space where the public can go to read That is luxury.