After $41 million and about 20 years of development, the Hunters Point Community Library in Long Island City is now finally complete and open to the public. Since the library opened its doors in September of this year, it has received an equal mixture of praise and criticism.
The four-story 22,000-square-foot building has been called everything from “one of New York’s greatest architectural contributions” to “a total disaster.” Because while there’s no denying the beauty of this massive public space, it’s equally as difficult to overlook it’s one major flaw – there are serious accessibility issues.
The new structure stands as a permanent reminder of why good library design is critical, and that functionality is just as important, if not more so, than aesthetics. Without it, libraries simply cannot fulfill their inherent purpose, which is to support the members of their community.
A Closer Look at the New Queens Library
Beside its one major architectural flaw, the Hunters Point library is truly a phenomenal structure. The library resides in the most perfect location imaginable, and is situated right along the banks of the East River. Because it’s four stories high, and has massive window cut outs on each side, it gives visitors fantastic views of the surrounding landscape.
Once inside, visitors can cash in on the views as they walk up the stairs to the fourth floor. Along the way, they have the opportunity to stop and browse the Fiction section.
The problem? There’s no other way to access the shelves in the Fiction area. The one elevator in the building goes all the way to the next floor. But the Fiction books reside between floors. So if you’re pushing a stroller, or are using a wheelchair, you can’t get there. Instead, you have to ask a staff member to retrieve books for you. This takes away from part of the fun of being able to browse and explore the books at your own leisure.
Designing with Community Betterment in Mind
The major problem with the current design of the Hunters Point library is that not all members from the nearby community can access it. In part, this defeats the purpose of the library, which is to support and bring together residents of the community.
Libraries are supposed to serve as a resource to the community. They provide education, training, and resources that help communities grow and flourish. But if not all members of the community can access them, this limits the amount of growth the community can experience as a whole.
That’s why it’s so important to design libraries with the visitors in mind. It’s important not to think about just what the library or the architectural firm want to accomplish, but rather what the community members need. When we build libraries with the community in mind, we give them more value. More people visit and the library performs better as a whole.
We say all of this not to criticize the Hunters Point library or the architectural firm, but rather to bring these matters to light so they can be recognized and discussed. We need to think more critically about the way we design all of our learning environments, which includes our public libraries.
Continue the Discussion
Do you have thoughts on the Hunters Point library that you would like to share? Feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below. Or if you’d like to discuss plans for your library, you can contact our office directly.