January 31, 2013

New York Times critic on NYPL renovation plans: “I’m not buying it”


It’s a done deal, we’ve been told over and over: plans for a massive transformation of the New York Public Library’s iconic 42nd building. But New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman begs for an intervention in a major front-page story about the project. (We’ve covered the library’s plans previously here, here, and here.)

About renderings unveiled for the project by British architect Norman Foster, Kimmelman writes:

Having looked at it and spent a few hours speaking with the library’s president, Anthony W. Marx, and with other library officials, and after further discussions with Mr. Foster, I’m not buying it. […] The value of an institution isn’t measured in public square feet. But its value can be devalued by bad architecture. And here we get to the schematics Mr. Foster finally unveiled last month. They aren’t worthy of him. After more than four years, this hardly seems the best he can do. The designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall. I was reminded that Mr. Foster is also responsible for the canopied enclosure of the inner court at the British Museum, a pompous waste of public space that inserts a shopping gallery into the heart of a sublime cultural institution.

Kimmelman’s front-page attack on the Foster design comes less than two months after another significant critical review of the library’s plans, “Undertaking its Destruction,” by noted architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who wrote her last published piece about the NYPL renovation for The Wall Street Journal (though the Foster plans had yet to be unveiled).

What’s an angry critic — or a concerned citizen — to do? Kimmelman thinks the library should “make public a detailed cost analysis by at least one independent party — not one of the firms the library has already hired.” He also hauntingly suggests that the library proceed by following the lions that sit outside the 42nd street building, that is, with “patience and fortitude.”



Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.