If a room full of designers were asked, “What would be your ideal library design opportunity?” – one would receive a variety of passionate responses ranging from the grandiose and utopian to the humble and socially-motivated. But a hand full of respondents (this designer included) might suggest that working on their childhood public library would be a prospect too good to pass up. The site of many deep-seated memories of discovery and inspiration, the libraries of our youth hold a special place in the trajectory of our lives. They often serve as the first civic space we engage with and learn from, and – along with schools – feature prominently in early memories of exploration and personal growth.
And so, when I found myself at a library conference seated next to the director of the New City Library – the center of gravity in my life as a curious adolescent in Rockland County, New York where I grew up – I recognized a chance to seize upon an incredible opportunity. I learned that the library needed a renovation and addition to expand its offerings and to meet the growing programmatic demands of a community in the throes of suburban growth. I shared with the director my fond recollections of the building and enjoyed hearing about how its interior had evolved since I last saw it while studying for the SATs in the early 90s. I also related how, whilst browsing the stacks in middle school, I’d stumbled upon an architectural monograph that would play a prominent part in my decision to pursue architecture as a profession later in life.
When the library released the RFP for a new master plan some months later, VMDO enthusiastically responded with a proposal to bring our many decades of educational space planning expertise and academic library design together to create a new vision for the aging structure. The shortlist of firms invited to interview for the job was intimidating; there were a number of local architects with compelling portfolios of successful library work of their own vying for the job. But our strength extended beyond our past experiences designing libraries to include a design team that, as it turned out, was more familiar with the community and the building than any of the competitors.
I am grateful to have had the chance to work with the librarians, the board of directors, and the patrons of New City Library for the past year and a half.The master plan process was robust. The final plan was well received and has moved into the next phase of realization: the design and construction of a new home for my hometown library. I’m optimistic that the execution of our master plan will yield a library building that will inspire future generations of users in the same way it did for an aspiring architect nearly 40 years ago.