From “masterpiece” to “chaos” in one year: What can we learn about designing for people-first?

https://ny.curbed.com/2019/8/23/20828580/long-island-city-queens-public-library-opening-date

This is the story of a library in Long Island, from its opening to a little over a year later. Landmark projects carry a lot of responsibility. Visually, aesthetically they make a mark, but still need to work for the people.

“I’m sure that they didn’t have kids, because as a parent, you know these things.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/05/nyregion/long-island-city-library.html

This cautionary tale contrasts The New York Times article about a “$41.5 million masterpiece” in September 2018, to a later one describing the user experience as “chaos” in November 2019. A $41.5 million dollar project. You think they’d get it right?

Once upon a time…

The New York Times, September 18 2019

The descriptions were enchanting:

On dark days and evenings, its enormous, eccentric windows will act like inviting beacons of light, attracting eyes and feet. They carve whimsical jigsaw puzzle pieces out of a cool, silvered-concrete facade.

From the lobby I climbed the zigzagging stairs that trace the funny, lively, meandering incision cut into the library’s west wall by the huge central window overlooking Manhattan, the stairs ascending past stepped tiers of desks and upper floors that seem to float as if in midair. 

From: Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The children’s wing is among the nicest and most artful spaces I have seen in any new library building. 

From: Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

Then this happened…

(The New York Times, November 5, 2019)

You remember the “the zigzagging stairs that trace the funny, lively, meandering incision cut into the library’s west wall”? They have become, “a circuitous route around the library, up and down flights of stairs.”

The terraces are “inaccessible to people who cannot climb to them”. The staff offered to retrieve the books for patrons with limited mobility, however,

“Part of what universal design is about is allowing everyone to independently enjoy spaces. Having to ask someone else to help you is, at worst, demeaning, and at best, a limiting experience.”

So then,

“The disputed shelves are now bare; the library, responding to the criticism, has moved the 2,900 adult fiction books to an accessible area on the second floor, and is now figuring out how to use the vacated space.”

From: New Library Is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs.

And finally, what about the children’s wing, described as “among the nicest and most artful spaces I have seen in any new library building”?

“A staircase and bleacher seating in the children’s section, judged too risky for small children, has been closed off.”

“It’s crazy right now,” said… one of three children’s librarians, as she tried to navigate a crush of strollers around the second floor elevator last Wednesday, when dozens of strollers descended on the building… It’s chaos.”

From: New Library Is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs.

People, people, people.
Who are the users and what are their needs?

Search “Hunters Point Community Library” and you’ll find it featured in the pages of Archdaily, Dezeen, DesignBoom, ArchitectMagazine. But, dear friends, this project isn’t about the architect, it’s for the people of Hunter’s Point.

What do the people of Hunter’s Point need?

  • A place to come and enjoy their community
  • A place to bring their kids
  • A place to find books
  • A place with universal access
  • A place to be proud of

This needs to be the starting place.

@anneknock

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