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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Public Realm Expansion of the Public Realm
Inside the Library
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Expansion of the Public Realm
Inside the Library
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The challenge for Carrère and Hastings was, How did you create a building that was both welcoming and a grand symbol of the city? And they solved this problem in a most brilliant way. After you've reached the piazza you go up a series of flights of stairs with gentle landings, and then you go under three great arches. Instead these three enormous arches project out towards you, and then in a sense are drawing you into the building.

So they're not overwhelming you, they're not intimidating you and saying you're not welcome here. They're drawing you in, they're welcoming you into the library. And so it is both a monumental structure and a welcoming public library.

You walk in through the doors into this enormous welcoming vestibule. And in the original design of the building you would stand at the front door and you would be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the space that you were in, but if you looked straight ahead you looked through a public gallery to a door in the distance. And that door led into the book stacks. Now the public wasn't welcome in the book stacks, but it's symbolic that the books are there and that your vista is towards where the books are being stored.

And unfortunately there are exhibits now in this newly restored gallery, and they always put something right in the middle of the vista. So you never really see what Carrère and Hastings were intending here.

You walk into this great marble lobby and the main public rooms are either the gallery on the first floor or the catalogue and reading rooms which were placed on the third floor. And they were placed up there on purpose so that they could get the most amount of natural light, and that they would be farthest from the noisy street.

In a typical Beaux-Arts way, the interior is designed to channel you up to the public spaces on the third floor. So there are these two enormous staircases to either side which you begin to move up.

And as you're going from the hall up the stairs you get to the second floor, which is mostly the offices of the library. So there aren't a lot of public spaces on the second floor, so there are no grand spaces that would make you want to linger on that floor. Instead, the stairs draw you right up to the third floor, where you enter into a grand third-floor lobby, and from there you enter into the series of ever-grander public spaces, the catalog room and the reading room, which were lavishly detailed.

Carrère and Hastings designed practically every detail; they designed the tables, they designed the chairs, they designed all the ornamental detail in the library.

Also typical of a Beaux-Arts building is it's filled with allegorical sculpture that says something about the use of the building. You have fountains flanking the entrance that are symbols of truth and beauty. Above the entrance there are statues representing poetry and romance and history and other things that you can research inside. And your entry is flanked by a pair of lions, which are traditional symbols of library and learning.

So this building exemplifies the ideas that were brought from France and uses these ideas in a most sophisticated manner.


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