Queens Builds: Glen Oaks Branch Library

Three of the buildings in Queens I drove by last week are libraries, with only one of them completed and occupied: the Glen Oaks branch near the borough's eastern edge. Designed by Marble Fairbanks (which has a thorough and informative journal on the project), the library was voted Building of the Year at American-Architects in 2013, they year it opened. Although I curated that feature and found the project to deserve its winning status, last week was the first time I had the chance to visit the library, even though I live in the borough.

The building is located on the south side of busy Union Turnpike, and the library's north-facing elevation is all glass and signage. There are actually two signs: one geared to pedestrians and one to motorists; the latter is the word "SEARCH" written in light across the upper panes of glass. The effect is created by a parapet with the back surface etched with the word on a layer of film; the sun projects the word onto the curtain wall in front. Since the letters are "written" by the sun, the effect is ever-changing, though on the day I visited there were only a few clouds so the letters were crisp (although the back surface could be glimpsed from across the street, creating a light-shadow of sorts).

The signage at top intrigues passersby, while the subtle signage across the top of the storefront makes it clear that this is a branch of the Queens Library.

The glass storefront curves inward toward the doors, inviting people into the building. The glass surfaces are covered with a pattern that includes variations of the word "SEARCH" in many languages, echoing the multi-ethnic character of Queens.

The checkout and a young adult area occupy the first floor, but an opening by the stair lures people to the lower floor, where the adult area is located. (Children's books and a multipurpose room are on the second floor.)

The stairs angle upon descent to deliver people into the middle of the space.

Although a cellar, the adult area is open and filled with light.

Much of the daylight comes from the opening next to the stair, where south-facing windows (with operable shades) are found.

There are also windows on the east next to a small plaza (more on that later).

Note the low ceiling with light-green paint in the photo above. Some comfy chairs are located below the low ceiling that is capped by a couple skylights from the plaza above.

At the front of the adult area, toward the street, are even more skylights, a row of them along the wall of books.

Back outside, the skylights to below are visible in the sidewalk.

Before venturing to the plaza on the east, here's a shot of a small outdoor space at the back of the library that is accessible from the young adult area, not from the street. I imagine librarians can tell kids there for after-school to head outside if they're being too loud. Whatever the case, it's a great amenity to have in a branch-library.

Just like the opening by the stairs inside, the east side of the library curves in plan. The first floor is covered in clear glass with a frit pattern, while the upper floor is clad primarily in translucent channel glass.

The plaza has the potential to be a great civic amenity (just as the benches at the front are a benefit to people waiting for buses), but it seems to my untrained eye that the library could use a gardener; the sumac and other plantings are a bit wild and thick, so the space isn't as inviting as it could be.

This last photo is a detail of the east side, with the glass pane for the reading-room skylight visible at the bottom.

Although my visit to the Glen Oaks Branch Library was quick, I got the impression that it is a much-loved branch. There were about a dozen patrons in the cellar space (many on the comfy chairs below the skylights) and the interiors were in good shape three years on (I know how much abuse Queens libraries take). Some of the success must be given to the design, which is thoughtful in every aspect, from the way it fits into the neighborhood, to the different spaces and the many surprising details. It's no wonder Queens Library uses the branch in its advertisements.