The Cultural Politics of the NYPL Redesign

British architect Norman Foster has been commissioned to redesign the New York Public Library building. The design proposal has become a front in what Paul Goldberger calls “the blood sport known as New York cultural politics.”

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The Cultural Politics of the NYPL Redesign

British architect Norman Foster has been commissioned to redesign the New York Public Library building. The design proposal has become a front in what Paul Goldberger calls "the blood sport known as New York cultural politics."

Storified by Richard Prouty· Wed, Jan 30 2013 11:45:31

The controversy over the CLP, or Central Library Plan, began not when Foster picked up his pencil but in 2008, when then CEO Paul LeClarc dissolved the Slavic and Baltic division and the Asian and Middle Eastern division without advance notice. Many regarded the move as a demonstration of the imperious power of the library’s CEO, and library supporters and scholars have been on edge ever since.
Upheaval at the New York Public Library | The NationNov 30, 2011 … Scott Sherman ( is a contributing writer to The Nation. … The New York Public Library, which compr…
Also in 2008 the NYPL changed the name of its iconic main building, another incident that grated on people. Paul Goldberger reports:
The library—the late Brooke Astor’s favorite cultural institution—was the place you could count on not to sell out, or at least not to disfigure itself. But it was accused of doing both in early 2008 when multiple carvings appeared in the façade, renaming the structure the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the result of a hundred-million-dollar gift from library trustee and Blackstone chairman Stephen Schwarzman. Not all of Schwarzman’s fellow trustees were happy about the idea of treating the landmark building as a naming opportunity, given how well it had done for a century as just “the New York Public Library.” And the name has not exactly caught on with the public, who are not often heard to say, “Let’s meet at the Schwarzman Building.”
Thus, the selection of a starchitect to redesign the Schwarzman Building was met with immediate suspicion.
“Why the need for the starchitect at all?” If the purpose of the project is to create a flexible space, why go through the expense and trouble of hiring such a high-profile architect, especially when he puts forward the kind of uninspired plans that Foster has. Why, when the same work could be commissioned to a lesser-known architect, if not better? The purpose of the starchitect is manifold, though largely justified for marketing purposes; yet, the work of the starchitect is usually, however unfortunate the results might be, built to
The most controversial part of the CLP is the proposal to remove the stack and bury the books under Bryant Park. Scholars were upset, but CEO Anthony Marx contents the change will democratize the central library. Michael Kimmelman disagrees.
the library, free and open, is already an exemplar of democracy at its healthiest and best, of society making its finest things available to all. Climbing the library steps, passing the lions, rising up to the reading room where anyone can ask for books, enshrines, architecturally, the pursuit of enlightenment. Inspiring more people to reach those heights is the library’s loftiest mission. Peddling “democracy” as if it were a popularity contest is what “American Idol”
Kimmelman suggests the huge cost of the project–$300 million and counting–is misspent, and not just because Foster’s design is so bland. Kimmelman says the most urgent need in the NYPL system is an upgrade of the branch libraries, which are more popular than the main building.
Financial honchos who cough up big bucks to carve their names on 42nd Street for the sake of posterity might recall that Andrew Carnegie made himself immortal by supporting — and building — the small local branches that now more than ever are anchors of their neighborhoods all across the city. They’re the ones that really need the money. The library should make a case for them,
DON’T MISS tonight’s lecture in NYC about Norman Foster’s plans to GUT the majestic New York Public Library @classicistChristine G H Franck

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