Lonely Planet Writer

New York Public Library unveils plans for its most famous building

The New York Public Library has unveiled ambitious new plans for a $317 million renovation of the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street that will see the historic space being expanded to better serve the public.

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street .
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Image by ©Kotsovolos Panagiotis/Shutterstock

Announced this week by the library’s board of trustees, the strategy calls for a 20% increase to the building’s public spaces and research facilities, as well as the restoration of historic rooms.  The plans will also focus on expanding spaces for exhibitions and educational programmes, as well as an all-round improvement to the visitor experience.  The renovation plans were developed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo, led by Francine Houben and Beyer Blinder Belle, A New York City-based firm. The two firms are also responsible for the overhaul of Mid-Manhattan Library, the Library’s largest circulating branch located across Fifth Avenue that is scheduled to reopen as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in early 2020.

Stephen A. Schwarzman renderings
The plans call for the expansion of public spaces as well as the addition of research facilities. Image by Mecanoo with Beyer Blinder Belle

“For over a century, the Schwarzman Building has been a beacon of open access to information and a tireless preservationist of the world’s knowledge,” said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. “We have a responsibility to preserve its architectural wonder and its role as an important civic space, while also preparing it for the future, and another century of best serving the public. We believe this plan does just that.”

The renovations will cost $317 million and are part of ongoing investments in the New York Public Library.
The renovations will cost $317 million and are part of ongoing investments in the New York Public Library. Image by Mecanoo with Beyer Blinder Belle

The work will be carried out in two phases, and will include the addition of an entrance on 40th Street with a plaza and elevator bank to ease congestion throughout the building, the transformation of former storage spaces and the building of a café and shop, as well as visitor facilities. The new elements are designed to complement the existing spaces such as the Rose Main Reading Room, the Maps, Periodicals and Genealogy Reading rooms and the Astor Hall. “The Master Plan builds on the framework of this historic building and icon of New York City architecture,” said Beyer Blinder Belle’s Elizabeth Leber. “We are seeking to instill clarity and ease of circulation, and to support new uses and programs, while only enhancing its significant architectural features.”

The work is the continuation of a series of improvements and investments that the Library has already undertaken at the Schwarzman Building since 2006.