The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) is responding with concern and cautious optimism to the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) selection of Hudson Companies/Marvel Architects for redevelopment of the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
We believe that the project, as outlined in the original Request for Proposals (RFP), has the potential to make a significant contribution — if the developers and BPL trustees will take the time to re-evaluate their design, and engage in an open process with the broader library and civic center community.
The current design gives no indication that the building houses an important civic institution — the 21st century descendant of the legendary Carnegie Libraries. Instead, what we are seeing is a clunky condominium sitting atop generic retail space. We want to see a distinctive and welcoming public building that provides a graceful transition from the civic buildings on Cadman Plaza to the residences of Brooklyn Heights — a library that is a visual gateway to the neighborhood.
Moreover, the project can and should address broader community priorities. The decision to assign considerable square footage to an exclusive private school gymnasium does not reflect the inclusive mission of our public library system. Community or public school space is called for in lieu of a private school gym.
Our optimism stems from the knowledge that these two firms are local businesses whose partners are well acquainted with our neighborhood: Jonathan Marvel has the ability to design a new building which truly addresses the complexities of this project on such an important site. Hudson Companies has an established track record for project completion — including affordable housing components.
We are pleased by Hudson/Marvel’s commitment to provide interim service during construction of the new library, which was a clear requirement in the RFP. The off-site affordable housing, which must be within Community District 2 boundaries, will allow for a less bulky building on this constricted site. It is an important BPL condition that the condominium certificate of occupancy be tied to the completion of the affordable housing component.
BPL trustees have said, “This is the beginning.” That is indeed true in the sense that the city’s public land use review process (ULURP) has not yet begun. Going forward, we expect our Brooklyn Heights Association members and all library neighbors and users to comment constructively towards the goal of housing a light-filled, welcoming library, in an exceptionally well designed new building. We’ll need everyone’s help to get us there.