The newly developed Bronx Library Center marked its one-year anniversary last month. The 78,000 square-foot library is the first public building in New York City and the first branch in the New York Public Library system to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. The project received LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council, and a New York City Green Building Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Environmental Protection. The project was rewarded a Building Team Silver Award from Building Design & Construction Magazine.

Designers strived to lure neighborhood residents, school children, teens and workers to explore the library’s resources instead of dissuading them with typical institutional callousness. From the glass façade to the interior features, the design embodies the notion of transparency with pristine elegance. Each level of the five-story library is kissed by natural daylight and all the materials used in the interior are revealed for what they really are – wood looks like wood, stone looks like stone, and so on. A natural palette adorns the only painted sections of the interior. Can you imagine that inspiration for the project was also drawn from Barnes and Noble?

The New York City-based Dattner Architects wanted to emphasize the usability of the public space. As you enter the library, you are likely to pass a crowd of teenagers convening in the entranceway. The main floor is far from being a tranquil oasis for scholarship rather it has been designed to be active and full of energy. It is a perfect location for the New Books and Media Center and is a concept very much inspired by retail outlets. Music can be heard from the Teen Center, which is equipped with directional speakers in order to contain the sound. As crime was a significant consideration for the library, the designers worked from the perspective, “if you build a fortress, people will attack it”, says Daniel Heuberger, principal at Dattner Architects. Since the occupation of the new library, there have not been any major reports of vandalism. There was, however, some graffiti during the construction process.

Lighting is a significant component to the design of the Bronx Library Center, not only for energy efficiency according to LEED strategy, but also for the comfort of library users and the maintenance of the books. Seating for readers is usually arranged closer to windows, whereas books are centrally located to protect them from overexposure to natural light. A swooshed ceiling on the central floors tilts upwards towards the periphery of the space, revealing more glass and modulating natural light to flow deeper into the building. Photocells monitor the light levels of the building, and aesthetically concealed shades are employed during the brighter times of day. Fluorescent lights come up only when needed; where 1.5 watts per square foot of lighting would normally be used for public institutions, the Bronx Library uses 1.3 watts. While fluorescent bulbs are an energy-wise solution to lighting, they can be irritating for most readers. Light fixtures diffuse the light and disperse it in a multitude of directions, thus making it a pleasant environment for hours on end.

It took thoughtful planning to bring the project to full fruition on a public budget. Daniel Heuberger noted: “technology is usually the tour de force in LEED design, but in the library’s case we could not afford an on-site mechanical engineer to manage the system.” A computer-run BMS system (Building Management System) automatically adjusts lighting throughout the facility and monitors CO2 levels with high-efficiency filters and airside economizers. Though the library came with a $50 million price tag, its innovation reduces energy costs by 20% and beats New York State energy requirements. All of the materials used in the new structure are recyclable and when the previous Bronx Library was demolished, 90% of the materials were recycled.

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