Greenpoint's Greenest Building
New York magazine|November 09, 2020
The new public library cost a lot, and it may have been worth it.
JUSTIN DAVIDSON

IF YOU’RE A NEW YORKER, chances are you live within walking distance of one of the city’s 208 branch libraries. Roughly a quarter of them are early-20th-century Carnegie libraries, limestone-and-brick-fronted affairs with high arched windows and fancy cornices meant to bring a sense of ceremony to opening a hardbound volume. Another 65 or so date from the 1960s and ’70s. Named for the mayor who went on a branch-building spree, the squat, cramped, and plain but serviceable “Lindsay boxes” generally make you want to check out a book and go home. People don’t, though. Both generations of branch-library architecture have been strained by New Yorkers’ varied needs—for a quiet place to hang out, computer access, job-hunting advice, translation, classes, read-a-louds, homework help, voter registration, a spot to get out of the rain, and assorted other services in dozens of different languages. Your local library is a one-stop shop for civic participation, and a suite of airless rooms with stained carpets and flickering fluorescent lights is not always up to the job.

The Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at the corner of Norman Avenue and Leonard Street, has gone through a Carnegie and a Lindsay version and is now on its third building on the same site. A few years ago, when workers were digging out the foundation, they found chunks of both its predecessors pancaked into asbestos-laced rubble—the architectural version of finding someone else’s decades-old scribbles in the margins of a library book. That polluted pit took two years and several million dollars to clean up, but it has finally birthed Greenpoint’s greenest building—a library enfolded in gardens, doing double duty as an environmental education center. It’s the sort of place that makes you want to move in.

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