New York Central Library by Foster + Partners

New York Public Library abandons Foster's contentious renovation plans

News: Foster + Partners' controversial proposal for a $300 million (£208 million) overhaul of New York Public Library's flagship branch on Fifth Avenue has been dropped following an onslaught of criticism.

Foster + Partners has already been paid $9 million (£5 million) for the plans to insert a contemporary lending library into unused reading rooms and stacks at the back of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building – a scheme that will now be abandoned according to reports.

The library now hopes to instead refurbish the nearby Mid-Manhattan Library, while the flagship building will be subjected to an alternative renovation plan to create up to 50 per cent more public space. It is unclear whether Foster + Partners will be involved.

"Obviously, I respect the decision of the trustees and whoever's been involved in the decision," Norman Foster told the New York Times.

"If I have any kind of sadness on the thing — besides obviously not having the project going ahead and having spent a huge amount of passion on the project with colleagues — it is that the proposals have never been revealed, and there hasn't really been a debate by those involved, including those who would have benefited from an inclusive approach to the library," he said.

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Foster + Partners' plans involved creating a new four-level atrium at the rear of the library

The move comes in the wake of an ongoing campaign against the plans, with support from influential figures including authors Mario Vargas Llosa, Salman Rushdie and Francine Prose. New York mayor Bill de Blasio had also expressed skepticism, preferring the option to renovate the Mid-Manhattan Library.

According to library officials, the decision was prompted by three factors: a study claiming that Foster's proposal would cost more than projected, the change in city government and the reaction of the public.

"When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget," library president Anthony W Marx said last week.

New York Central Library by Foster + Partners
A new corridor would have connected the atrium with the main entrance

The axed plans, unveiled at the end of 2012, would have involved inserting a new corridor through the centre of the building, connecting the main entrance with a new four-level atrium overlooking Bryant Park.

At the time, Norman Foster said the design would not alter the character of the building. "It will remain a wonderful place to study. The parts that are currently inaccessible will be opened up, inviting the whole of the community – it is a strategy that reflects the principles of a free institution upon which the library was first founded," he said.

One objection from critics was that books would be moved from the existing stacks to a new location in New Jersey, causing delays in retrieval. The revised scheme would allow these books to stay on site, in a storage area beneath the park.

New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman had also blasted the plans as "an awkward, cramped, banal pastiche" featuring "a space-wasting atrium with a curved staircase more suited to a Las Vegas hotel".

The library will still receive the $150 million (£89 million) that had been allotted to the project under the Bloomberg administration, but it will now be used for other purposes.

Foster + Partners did not respond to requests for further comment.