Steven Holl’s Celebrated L.I.C. Library Design to Be Carried Out on the Cheap

Distinctive aluminum facade to be replaced with concrete and metallic paint.

The aluminum facade has been deemed too expensive.
The aluminum facade has been deemed too expensive. (Steven Holl Architects)

In a city where library design seems to have taken on diminished significance in this budget-constrained era, with free-standing structures giving way to ground-floor condos in gleaming new towers, the Hunter’s Point library designed by Steven Holl and Chris McVoy stood as a literal beacon to bibliophiles. When plans were revealed in 2011, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff  lauded the design as “a striking expression of the continuing effort to shake the dust off of the city’s aging libraries and recast them as communal hubs.”

The library, he predicted, would have a “haunting presence on the waterfront,” that “should go far in bolstering the civic image of Queens.” (Mr. Ouroussoff went on to rave above how, at dusk, “the library’s odd-shaped windows will emit an eerie glow, looking a bit like ghosts trapped inside a machine. And late at night, when the building is dark, spotlights will illuminate its pockmarked facade and the windows will resemble caves dug into the wall of a cliff.”)

But at least a few elements of the celebrated design—one of the few buildings that Mr. Holl has designed in the city where he built his practice—will now be scuttled because construction bids have come in much higher than expected, according to DNAinfo.

Among the features likely to scrapped are not only the largely invisible, like the $750,000 geothermal heating and cooling system, but the custom interiors and the distinctive aluminum facade, which is to be replaced with concrete and metallic paint

Construction on the project, which was scheduled to begin this fall, has been delayed by the disparity between construction bids and the project’s $28.6 million budget, which included design costs, DNAinfo reported, with bids coming in between $33 million and $42 million.

“None of the design changes have a significant impact on the overall esthetics, the size, the footprint or square footage of the building,” Queens library president Thomas Galante, who has faced criticism for the budget he allocated himself, wrote in a letter to Friends of the Library, according to the news website.

It is, however, hard to see how the changes, in particular the facade, which are expected to shave some $4.7 million off the project, will not impact the aesthetics of the 21,000-square-foot library. The Times review even referenced the “rough aluminum” facade in praising the building’s “beguiling appearance.”

As to whether Mr. Holl—whose sanded aluminum sports center for Columbia University opened last spring—will oppose the changes remains to be seen. His office has not yet responded to The Observer’s request for comment.

Steven Holl’s Celebrated L.I.C. Library Design to Be Carried Out on the Cheap