Architecture buffs rejoice — Van Alen Books soon to open in Flatiron

By James Gardner | March 31, 2011 05:36PM

A rendering of the interior of the new Van Alen Books slated for 30 West 22nd Street

Among those people who take a heated interest in such matters, it was a source of no small
sadness when Urban Center Books, the best — and only — New York bookstore devoted exclusively
architecture and urbanism, shut its doors a year ago. One would like to think that New York City,
which probably has more architects and urban planners, not to mention more buildings, than any
other metropolis in America, if not the world, would be able to sustain a bookstore devoted to this
vital area of interest.

Into the breach, in any case, here comes Van Alen Books, an off-shoot of the acclaimed Van Alen
Institute: Projects in Public Architecture. The store is set to open next month at 30 West 22nd
Street. Whereas Urban Center Books was lodged in the legendary Villard Houses at 451 Madison
Avenue, that Renaissance palazzo designed by Mckim, Mead, and White, the new store will be in a
less exalted building and a less exalted part of town. But it will inhabit what feels like more spacious quarters
suitable not only for stocking books but also for holding readings, discussions, debates and, just
possibly, the occasional brawl.

It is being designed by the youthful firm of LOT-EK, which was founded in 1993 by Ada Tolla and
Giuseppe Lignano. LOT-EK’s stock in trade is the creation of stunning designs out of the reused
refuse of urban and industrial sites. Accordingly, the dominant element of the new store, according
to the press release, will be a 14-foot staircase formed from stacks of 70 recycled doors. This will create the feeling of an “amphitheater” that will look out onto 22nd Street through the store’s
glazed façade (note: correction appended). The main inspiration for the stairs is the TKTS booth at Times Square, which, the
press release reminds us, originated in a design competition held by the Van Alen Institute back in

James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several