Architecture review: A sophisticate among strip malls in Queens

Glen Oaks to get a glassy new library, courtesy of Marble Fairbanks

TRD New York /
Dec.December 27, 2012 03:00 PM

Sometime in the spring, a glamorous new branch library will open in the unlikeliest of places, at 255-01 Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks, Queens. Designed by Scott Marble and Karen Fairbanks, who founded Marble Fairbanks in 1990, this blast of neo-mod zazz will rise in the midst of what is akin to a strip mall. Replacing an older brick-faced structure on the same site, the new library will be an 18,000-square-foot, LEED certified space on three levels —one of them below grade — that will contain a circulating library, a cyber center and communal meeting spaces.

The design, which has already received a number of awards — among them Design Excellence Program, NYC DDC and a Merit Award, AIA New York — will appear amid a bevy of small residential houses. Unlike its mostly windowless predecessor, the new building, which sits on the corner of its block and is most conspicuous for its pale, metallic cladding, will greet the neighborhood with an expansive second-story curtain-wall that surrounds the children’s section. Across its top will appear the single word: SEARCH.

The structure is entered through an equally airy ground-floor area, whose curving contours occupy a space under the more rectilinear second floor: this space is managed in such a way as to recall Le Corbusier’s high-modernist temple, the Villa Savoye. The curvacity continues toward the back of the building, where the structure’s footprint recedes from the street even as a glazed space extends from it to form a dramatically lit stairway down into the lower level. The below-grade area, the main reading room, will feature skylights amid an elaborate group of trees and planters designed by Kate Orff of Scape/Landscape Architecture.

Marble Fairbanks seems to have an affinity for libraries, having worked on a renovation of the Schomburg Center in Harlem, as well as the Slide Library of the Art History and Archaeology department of Columbia University. Together with the recently opened Queens Central Library, Children’s Library Discovery Center, designed by 1100 Architects, this latest project confirms that our various municipal agencies, led by the New York City Planning Department, are finally taking design more seriously than in the past.

James Gardner is The Real Deal’s architecture critic.

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