Letter to the Board of Trustees of the New York Public LibraryFebruary 4, 2013The late Ada Louise Huxtable’s last essay (
Wall Street Journal
, December 3,2012) criticized the New York Public Library’s plan to remove its seven stories ofstacks in the main branch at 42
Street and Fifth Avenue to make room for acirculating library designed by Foster + Partners. While she had not been able toconvince the library to show her Foster’s scheme by that date, Huxtablecontended that the19th-century iron and steel stacks were an importantengineering feat and should be preserved.Now Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic for the
New York Times
, argueson the front page of the newspaper (January 30, 2013) that the schematic designNorman Foster presented on December 20, 2012 has “the elegance anddistinction of a suburban mall,” and is an “awkward, cramped, banal pastiche oftiers facing claustrophobia-inducing windows.” He further questions a plan wherethe budget of $300 million keeps rising, and asserts that the trade-off in squarefeet simply does not make a strong case for proceeding.We architecture writers, editors, critics, and historians urge the trustees of theNew York Public Library to reconsider their plans for the 42
Street building. Thelibrary’s lack of transparency in involving the public in its planning processangered Huxtable, as it has us. We, like Kimmelman, are convinced theproposed intervention would do much to damage the architectural character andexperience of Carrère and Hasting’s magnificent Beaux Arts landmark. Thescholars among us do not object to the public or to teenagers sharing this space.But considering all the trade-offs, the library should seriously reconsiderrenovating the 40
Street branch for a circulating library where Foster’s talentscould be used more appropriately.Why is the board of the New York Public Library in such a rush that it remainsdeaf to the well-publicized misgivings of so many in the community? Before suchan irreversible decision is made, we ask the board to stop and open the proposalaffecting such a significant public institution to significant public discussion.