Sunset Park Library

Architect: Leroy Street Studio Architecture

Owner: Brooklyn Public Library

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Rather than shutter one of the busiest libraries in the Brooklyn Public Library System as a new permanent building was being constructed, this project transformed an unused courthouse dating to 1931 to serve as a lively interim home. Half the size of the previous facility, this temporary library still provides a wide range of programs defined by eight months of community engagement work led by a nonprofit organization founded by the architecture firm.

New York donated the old courthouse to assist the neighborhood in meeting its social service and cultural needs. The library occupies the first floor, and the team leveraged minimal square footage and a tight budget to provide flexible spaces and technology adaptable to shifting needs.

The library is situated in a diverse neighborhood and welcomes patrons who speak Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and English. The team’s engagement work gathered staff, elected officials, and users whose recommendations focused on technical training as well as separate spaces for families and large groups. A design reflective of the multicultural neighborhood was also emphasized.

A central program room floats freely within the volume and defines the additional zones surrounding it, such as the children’s reading areas and a brightly lit main reading room. The team refreshed a dismal southern entrance, transforming it into a vibrant community hub anchored by the library and adjacent community meeting rooms. The rear of the building is emblazoned with multilingual signage directing patrons and the library’s staff to the restrooms and offices.

The library is situated in a diverse neighborhood and welcomes patrons who speak Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and English.

The $1.5 million budget, much of which was dedicated to bringing the historic building in line with current electrical and fire safety codes, required every programmatic element to serve a variety of spaces. The millwork and shelving are detailed as clear insertions that help decrease the scale of the space, while color delineates areas and assists in open circulation. Much of the library’s furniture consists of reused and repaired pieces from the library’s previous location.

One of the library’s most unique and creative features emerged from the team’s partnership with high school students enrolled in a local youth employment program, which resulted in a participatory design process that shaped the functional art installation that adorns the library’s windows. With no space in the budget for a shading system, the team and students created their own and incorporated several meaningful themes. While the shades help reduce glare in the space, they also cast animated shadows during sunny days.

Additional information

Engineer - MEP: ICOR Associates, Inc.

General Contractor: F.J. Sciame Construction Co.

Consultant - Lighting Designer: Image Lighting Distribution, LLC

Consultant - Expeditor: RPO Inc.

Jury

Elaine Molinar, AIA (Chair), Snøhetta, New York, NY

Teri Canada, AIA, NOMA, Evoke Studio, Durham, NC

Jennie C. West, AIA, Studio West LLC, New Orleans, LA

Sarah Meilleur, Calgary Public Library, Calgary, Alberta

Sharon L. Bostick, SLB Planning LLC, Chicago, IL

Kris Johnson, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT

Image credits

Sunset Park Library-03

Halkin/Mason Photography

Sunset Park Library-05

Leroy Street Studio

Untitled

Pankaj Khadka

Sunset Park Library-04

Halkin/Mason Photography

Sunset Park Library-07

Halkin/Mason Photography