Urban libraries have an ever expanding and evolving role in the community. As fulcrums for learning, socializing, and development they function as sites of interaction and centers for potential community development. Architecturally, a library operates as both container and distributor. It is a destination as well as a point of departure, a place where curiosities are sparked and learning about the world begins.
At the Francis Martin Library, a 1956 Bronx branch of the New York Public Library, we transformed the dark, cheerless, and outdated spaces of the second floorchildrens reading room so they can stimulate users imaginations and encourage them to learn through form, color, and layout. The new open plan configuration increases access to the panoramic views provided by the windows of the elevated, gently curving faade. The clusters of reading tables take advantage of these outside views and the natural lighting. Additionally, the fluidity of the new plan improves circulation and movement throughout the second floor, allowing visitors to comprehend and make use of all the multi-faceted components and offerings of the library.
The playful ceiling is made from reflective Barrisol a stretchable film, which undulates throughout the room and folds away in some areas to increase ceiling height and reveal the existing concrete slab. The increased ceiling height adds lightness and openness to the space. Translucent plastic shelves display books in a clear and inviting manner, while the diagonal arrangement of the shelves behind the reading tables creates a fun, dynamic series of spaces for the children that also maximize visibility for the staff. A large globe light fixture designates and illuminates the story hour area, and creates a casual and warm atmosphere where children can participate in a shared learning experience that promotes discovery.
The design is bold and graphic, with a palette of oranges, greens, and blues offset by glossy white. The splashes of bright color result in an interior that is animated, expressive, and thoughtful. Wall graphics were designed to inspire pride and provide information about the surrounding Bronx neighborhood. Functioning as a game, the premise is to match up the names of famous figures born in the Bronx with their corresponding descriptions.
The finished project has had an immensely positive impact on the children, staff, community, and the New York Public Library organization, as evidenced by frequent updates from librarians extolling tangible changes in the childrens behavior in the new space. The brighter atmosphere, imaginative design, and playful environment have enlivened the spirit of the library, increased visibility and circulation, and vastly improved resources and technology.
The Francis Martin Library has received prestigious awards from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter, American Library Association, and Interior Design magazine.