The public library system is one of the last bastions of public space in cities. Their buildings, collections, and staff play a critical role in equalizing access to information and providing the tools and infrastructure to strengthen individuals and communities alike.The Queens Library participates in this exchange of knowledge and materials for learning throughout 63 branches in the borough. Commissioned by the New York Department of Design and Construction for the Design Excellence Program, Glen Oaks Branch Library replaces an existing one story facility with a new 18,000 square foot high performance, LEED certified building.
Located at the juncture of commercial and institutional properties and a residential neighborhood, the new library establishes a civic space (spacious core)filled with reading rooms, meeting spaces, collections, and computer and digital technologies for the diverse community. Young children visit for story time; teens flood the library after school to study and collaborate; and adults attend computer workshops and find a quiet place to read. Within weeks of opening, Glen Oaks Branch Library moved up from 26th to 6th place in overall circulation of materials in the Queens system.
To relate the building to the scale of the residential community and meet zoning requirements, half of the interior spaces are placed below grade. Abundant natural light illuminates the lower level through a two-story atrium with connecting stair and skylights placed in strips along the plaza above. The contoured ceiling of the lower level defines reading areas lit by the skylights.The profile of the ceiling is visible at the double-height space; this visual connection between the plaza above and ceiling surfaces below accentuates the artificiality of the ground.
Above grade massing and materials respond to differing site conditions on each elevation. The channel glass façade provides a luminous glow in the interiors and transforms the building into a beacon for the neighborhood. A large picture window allows for views into and out of the second floor children’s area while providing a civic identity to the community. On bright days, the word “search” appears on the north façade, moving across the surface as the sun moves across the sky. “Search” is projected by sunlight passing through the film in the parapet onto the glass curtain wall. The letters vary in scale and legibility as a result of the time of day, amount of sunlight, and the season, creating a moving, ephemeral register of local site conditions. The graphic pattern on the glass curtain wall at the street level includes the word “search” translated into the 30 languages spoken in Glen Oaks, reflecting the diversity of surrounding neighborhood, encouraging the community to engage with the building at the street, and serving as an archive of this information for future generations.