Created by Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle
The former Mid-Manhattan Library has been transformed into the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), following a full-scale renovation designed by architects Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle with generous support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the City of New York. Now a state-of-the-art library, NYPL’s largest branch offers public access to 400,000 books and browsable materials as well as computers, multimedia equipment, and dedicated spaces for learning and gathering, including a new rooftop terrace for all New Yorkers.
Originally constructed in 1915 as a department store, the six-story building was designed by T. Joseph Bartley in a refined early 20th century neoclassical commercial expression, including a two-story retail base featuring large shop windows flanked by Doric pilasters.
Arnold, Constable & Company took advantage of the site’s prominent corner location on Fifth Avenue, diagonally across from the grand new Public Library, and established two primary entries for the building: one at the center of its Fifth Avenue façade and one on 40th Street, with the latter serving as the carriage entrance.
The New York Public Library purchased the building and established it as the Mid-Manhattan Branch in 1970. Architect Giorgio Caviglieri’s 1978 renovation embraced select aspects of the retail- focused design—axial circulation and an engaging street presence among them.
Newly renewed for NYPL’s 21st century goals, the library has been expanded to 180,000 square feet; seating and public computers have doubled as part of the transformation. Through dramatic interventions and thoughtful detailing, and thanks to a commitment by NYPL to invest in the good bones of the structure, a dynamic program now gracefully sprawls across the library’s eight floors.
See plan above: The Lower Level houses distinct areas for kids and teens, best viewed from the spots in pink. Keep an eye out for a mechanical book sorter in the Children’s Center and for murals in the Teen Center, all intended to inspire creativity and curiosity.
Natural light pours into the Lower Level via two carefully placed voids. One of these provides a stair for teen patrons, the first indication that the Teen Center is a space of their own.
The walls and glass storefronts of the Teen Center, treated as a continuous canvas, feature murals by local illustrator and graphic designer Melinda Beck.
Formerly used as back-of-house space, the Lower Level now provides this library’s first dedicated facilities for children and teens.
Openings in the first floor slab, including a large rectangular void above the Children’s Center, draw natural light into the Lower Level.
A highly visible mechanical book sorter provides kids (and adults, too!) with a glimpse of the library’s inner workings.
See plan above: Views from the entrance and from the welcome desk, denoted by spots in pink, showcase the library’s new “Main Street.”
The library is welcoming for children and teens, fostering the next generation of library users, and equally welcoming for adults who are learning a language, building their resume, or starting a business. Beginning with the building’s entry, the design celebrates this diversity of use, allowing for self-guided and librarian-guided inquiries into a world of knowledge.
The renovation seeks to maximize visual connections, improve light quality, and provide freedom of movement across the library’s fairly deep floor plates. The building’s remaining escalators were removed, and the library’s front desk was fully reimagined.
The renovation works with the existing grid of structural columns, activating them as design features. Throughout the library, select columns anchor cantilevered long tables while others provide a striking canvas for wayfinding graphics.
The building’s section directly informed the design of the library’s directories and other wayfinding graphics. The design embraces strong linear stripes, which evoke floor slabs, in several elements of the wayfinding system.
See plan above: Starting with the second floor, visitors can browse the impressive Marron Family Circulating Collections. Spots in pink provide opportunities for viewing important architectural choices, both functional and dramatic, that engage the visitor and facilitate connections across and between floors. Outdoor views and iconic furniture design also deserve an extra look.
The library’s second, third, and fourth floors comprise approximately 44,000 square feet of public library space. These floors feature several classic materials–including natural stone, terrazzo, and oak—which reinforce the connection between SNFL and the historic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, across Fifth Avenue.
The New York Public Library Branch Chair, designed by Thos. Moser, was introduced to the library system with this building’s renovation. Throughout the library, the signature chairs line floating tables, whose design recalls the impressive scale of tables found in the Rose Main Reading Room.
On the southern end of the “Long Room,” peek out of the newly uncovered windows for a view of the pocket park below.
Both architecturally dramatic and functionally efficient, the “Long Room” houses the majority of the circulating collection across five creatively accommodated mezzanine levels. On the other side of the atrium, visitors enjoy three floors of open, welcoming space with views over lower bookcases and plenty of natural light.
The ceiling of the 85’ by 17’ atrium features Hayal Pozanti’s Instant Paradise (2021), a puzzle-like composition that celebrates the evolution of the written word. In this setting, the artwork echoes the neoclassical paintings set in the ceilings of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
The library’s easternmost staircase facilitates movement between the five levels of book stacks, two of which are newly created mezzanine levels.
Both of the building’s staircases are punctuated by bold, colorful numerals.
See plan above: The fifth floor is dedicated to the Thomas Yoseloff Business Center, which provides the services and collections of the former Science, Industry and Business Library. The floor above houses the Pasculano Learning Center, the largest adult learning center in the NYPL system. Experience the pair of floors from the spot in pink.
Atop the book stacks of the general collections, the essence of the Long Room continues with an atrium that connects the fifth and sixth floors. Consulting, training, and other meeting spaces line this “mini Long Room,” occupying the same area as the stacks below.
The fifth and sixth floors, whose resources support lifelong learning for adults, provide an office-like atmosphere that is acoustically separated from other areas of the library.
See plan above: The formerly utilitarian roof was completely transformed and, today, houses flexible program space, a public cafe, and an outdoor terrace with views of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Spots in pink indicate key viewing opportunities, from both indoors and outdoors.
Through this renovation, the roof level was activated as a new seventh floor, and some of the building’s mechanical equipment was relocated to a penthouse level. These volumes are wrapped with a painted and perforated metal structure.
Numerous creative design approaches and multidisciplinary collaborations were catalyzed through the renovation, including a bespoke process for implementing the sculptural “Wizard’s Hat.”
The unique structure of the “Wizard’s Hat” creates an expressive ceiling in the multi-purpose program rooms on the seventh floor, new glass-enclosed spaces that directly support NYPL’s robust suite of public programs.
The color of the “Wizard’s Hat” is reminiscent of Manhattan’s Beaux Art patinated copper-clad mansard roofs, often found in midtown. Two such examples are visible from the terrace, the only free and publicly-accessible rooftop terrace in Midtown.
The reimagined, renovated library on 40th Street and Fifth Avenue is vital to the New York Public Library’s goal of providing a world-class learning center in the middle of Midtown, uniting in one central campus a full spectrum of resources—from NYPL’s renowned historical collections cherished by scholars from around the world to its much-needed circulating materials, programs, and events for all ages.