Beacon for Queens Community
Glen Oaks Branch Library
Context: the City
The Queens Library serves over 2.2 million people from 63 branch library locations plus 6 Adult Learning Centers. It has one of the highest circulations of any library in the world. It is first in circulation in New York State since 1985 and has maintained the highest circulation of any city library since 1987. Glen Oaks Branch Library serves one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Queens with a population of just under 20,000 from over 50 countries speaking at least 30 different languages.
The landscape strategy takes into account the ground surface’s dual role as an outdoor public space and as the roof of the cellar below. Above, the landscape transforms the site constraint that allows for only a thin crust of soil into an opportunity to explore relationships between artifice and nature. Rather than propose large bulky planters that would block visual access into the library, the landscape architects propose a contiguous thin soil matrix under a field of bluestone. Rhus glabra, or Sumac, is planted bare-root in this contiguous but thin soil matrix. Sumac roots tend to be shallow and wide-spreading and therefore is highly suitable for this condition. Bluestone planks of varying widths create an urban surface in keeping with the library’s residential context and larger public space role and are ‘removed’ to plant Sumac and low perennials. Benches are introduced in keeping with the grain of the bluestone pattern, which splays at the building entry. The library landscape is porous visually, blending inside and outside, while providing quiet seating areas for rest and reading.
As the lower level constitutes over 50% of the building program including the main adult reading room, creating a well-lit space below grade is of primary concern. A double-height space acts as a large skylight and connects the ground floor to the lower level. In addition, three strip skylights in the plaza bring light down to define more specific reading areas within the adult room. The ceiling of the adult reading room under the outdoor plaza is contoured to form varying heights above the finish floor, providing more intimate reading areas within the relatively open plan. The profile of the contoured ceiling is read at the double-height space, visually making the connection between the plaza surface and the ceiling surface and accentuating the artificiality of the ground.
Elevations: North and West
The pattern on the graphic film interlayer on the lower level north and west elevation allow the building to be “read” at multiple scales: as an abstract pattern from the distance of the neighborhood that becomes, as the viewer moves into closer proximity, information about the multitude of languages spoken in Glen Oaks, represented through a pattern of book ends of varying colors. The pattern doubles as a screen to filter western sun, reducing heat loads in the summer months.
The north elevation functions as a picture-window view into and out of the second floor children’s area, while also satisfying the Library’s desire to provide a civic identity to the community. The word “search” is projected by the sunlight through letters in the film in the parapet onto the glass curtain wall, varying in scale and legibility as a result of the time of day, degree of sunlight, and season.