Mecanoo replaces Foster + Partners on New York Public Library renovation

The New York Public Library has selected Mecanoo – the Dutch architecture firm behind Europe's biggest library – to lead the renovation of its iconic main building on Fifth Avenue and a smaller branch nearby.

Mecanoo has been tasked with expanding the public areas of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building, the library's main non-circulating research centre at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, by 42 per cent.

The firm will also gut and renovate the library's smaller Mid-Manhattan branch, a lending facility located at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue.

The New York Public Library's 42nd Street main building
The New York Public Library's Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street main building

"Libraries are the cathedrals of our time. It is the most important public building in a city," said Mecanoo principal Francine Houben. "Our holistic approach – from library card to campus – aims to create a public library in the broadest sense, welcoming to all and capable of changing the course of individual lives through innovative library spaces and services, for today and tomorrow."

Last year, library leaders abandoned a controversial $300 million renovation plan led by Foster + Partners, which would have removed many of the book stacks in the Schwarzman building to create a large new reading room.

Critics of the plan argued it would have undermined a resource for scholarship, as millions of its books and other holdings would have been moved into off-site storage. The London-based architecture firm had already been paid $9 million for its designs.

The New York Public Library's Fifth Avenue branch
The New York Public Library's 40th Street and Fifth Avenue branch

Mecanoo will team up with the New York firm Beyer Blinder Belle, which is known for its historic preservation work including the renovation of Grand Central Terminal, also on 42nd Street.

"With this team – Mecanoo, a worldwide leader in library design, and Beyer Blinder Belle, which has renovated New York's most prominent and iconic historic buildings – the library can be confident we can realise our ambitious, and critically important, vision," said Evan Chesler, chairman of the library's board of trustees.

Foster + Partners' plans for New York Public Library
Library leaders abandoned Foster + Partners' controversial renovation plans for the New York Public Library. Image by DBOX for Foster + Partners

The New York City Library currently runs four main research facilities and 88 lending libraries. The Schwarzman building is often referred to as its main branch and houses more than 15 million items, including rare manuscripts and scrolls. The building opened in 1911, and was designed by New York architecture studio Carrère and Hastings. It is known for the pair of lion statues reclining outside the entrance and the ornate Rose Main Reading Room.

The new public spaces inside the Schwarzman building will be created out of "vacant or under-utilised staff spaces," according to a statement from the institution.

The renovation of the Mid-Manhattan branch will begin first with an estimated completion date of 2019. Changes to the Schwarzman building will follow.

Mecanoo is currently renovating Washington DC's main circulating library, named for Martin Luther King Jr, which was originally designed by Mies van der Rohe. They also recently completed the Bruce C Bolling Municipal Building in Boston.