Library Lacks Funds

Downtown Brooklyn’s gonna look busy soon, with thousands of square feet of residential property going up, as Matthew Schuerman reports in today’s Observer. But another nearby development, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Visual and Performing Arts branch, at Flatbush and Layfayette avenues in Fort Greene, is hitting some speed bumps, according to The Brooklyn Papers. Seems that funds are drying up, and construction, originally planned to happen in four to five years, is now looking like it’ll take much longer.

What’s the problem? Well, it looks like the library’s only raised $18 million for the $70 million to $85 million price tag on the Enrique Norton-designed “slinky, all-glass, ship-bow-shaped” library. A retooled design revealed last week includes more commercial space, which will provide a revenue stream for the library’s operating expenses.

This raises the question, once again, of commercial interests moving into public space: It monopolized discussions about the redesign of the northern end of Union Square Park (in which the local community board came down hard against a new restaurant), and commercial activities in various city parks have been questioned. It’s basically a question of why, when tax money should be used to support public facilities, does the city need to sell or rent out public space to for-profit businesses?

It also raises the question of why must a public building be designed by starchitects, especially a public library, when prices can be so expensive (see Jason Horowitz’s article on Rafael Viñoly to understand the dangers of architectural visionaries).

And, as a cautionary tale, take a look at Seattle’s Rem Koolhaas-designed public library. Are we the only ones, or is it really as ugly as we think? (And let’s not even talk about the inside. It’s well worth a trip west just for a chuckle.) (The Brooklyn Papers)

-Matthew Grace

Library Lacks Funds