Libraries for the 21st Century: Design Standards for the Modern Carnegie Library

Rendering courtesy of Mitchell Giurgola Architects

In 2021, the New York Public Library broke ground to completely renovate five original Carnegie libraries in high-needs communities with a new set of design standards: Port Richmond in Staten Island, 125th Street and Fort Washington in Manhattan, and Hunts Point and Melrose in the South Bronx. The projects, managed by Mitchell Giurgola and CannonDesign, will preserve the historic character of the branches while modernizing the interior and maximizing and expanding public space to serve today’s library patrons.

On February 16, 2022, Open House New York hosted a panel discussion about how the NYPL is using design, community engagement, and library programming to meet the needs of today’s New Yorkers. OHNY invited designers and library leaders to discuss the role of the design standards to allow for Carnegie libraries to better serve their neighborhoods, and about the roles that design, accessibility, sustainability, and technology play in the transformation of these iconic structures into modern centers for public learning and engagement.

Margaret Sullivan moderated the conversation between Risa Honig, Gesille Dixon, (New York Public Library), Carol Loewenson (Mitchell Giurgola), and Phil Dordai (CannonDesign) about the history of the Carnegie Libraries and how Carnegie design standards are shaping library buildings, programs, and services that touch communities across the five boroughs.

AIA CES | 1.5 LU


Speaker Bios

Margaret Sullivan

Margaret Sullivan is a national thought leader in assisting public libraries envision their preferred future. Since founding her firm Margaret Sullivan Studio in 2014, she has worked with the country’s leading library systems including the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, New York Public Library, DC Public Library, Richland (SC) Library, Salt Lake City Public Library and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on a variety of projects including Strategic Planning, Master Facilities Planning, Visioning, Programming, Architecture & Interior Design and Staff Workshops.

Risa Honig

Risa Honig was appointed The New York Public Library’s Vice President of Capital Planning and Construction in 2015. A member of the American Institute of Architects with over 30 years of architectural experience, Honig manages a robust portfolio of Library design and construction projects with a capital budget of over $500 million.

Gesille Dixon

Gesille Dixon was promoted to her current role as Senior Director of Branch Programs and Services in October 2021 from her previous role as Bronx Borough Director. In this role, she is responsible for developing and executing on a strategic vision for the creation, expansion, and continuous improvement of learning initiatives, programs, outreach, and services offered by two key departments: Youth Programs and Services and Adult Programs and Services.  Additionally, is responsible for managing a staff of over 100 educational and outreach professionals and a program budget of over $17M.

Carol Loewenson

Carol Loewenson joined Mitchell Giurgola in 1982 and became a Partner in 1996. Carol’s expertise ranges from highly technical buildings, renovations and façade replacements to work involving both the private and public sector.

Phil Dordai

Phil Dordai is an accomplished client leader with a strong background in management, design and sustainability advocacy for higher education clients. As a Co-leader of CannonDesign’s New York City education practice, he brings a deep understanding of client’s perspectives based upon his work for over 30 major higher education institutions during his career.


About Radical Knowledge: Libraries as Community Catalysts
Radical Knowledge: Libraries as Community Catalysts is a year-round program examining how libraries serve as both vibrant learning institutions and centers for their communities, providing physical and virtual spaces to enrich civic life.

This series is being developed with learning institutions, community activists, and leaders across New York City’s diverse communities. Virtual, experiential, and participatory experiences for Radical Knowledge include conversations, workshops, site visits, self-guided tours, and a scavenger hunt. These activities are being designed to reach OHNY’s core audience of city explorers while also engaging underrepresented communities that are often not included in the power structures of New York City. Information about series events will be released in Spring 2021.

Radical Knowledge is the sixth installment of OHNY’s Urban Systems infrastructure series. We are grateful to our program partners: The New York Public LibraryQueens Public LibraryBrooklyn Public Library, and the Metropolitan New York Library Council.