Photos

Designing Libraries That Encourage Teens to Loiter

An open, airy floor at the New York Public Library offers kids spots to play Wii and Guitar Hero, along with books and homework help.

Image
Rice+Lipka Architects

A lot of public spaces try to keep teenagers out (remember those high-frequency noise generators that play a pitch only kids can hear?). But the New York Public Library is trying something different. What if they designed a space specifically for teens? What would that look like?

Their answer can be found on the third floor of Harlem's Hamilton Grange branch. The 4,400-square-foot space is the NYPL's first full-floor space dedicated to teens. It cost $1.8 million to build, and was just honored as a 2013 winner of the American Institute of Architects Library Building Awards.

Architect Lyn Rice says the design challenged library norms in some important ways. "There's a calm that descends on most reading rooms," he says. "The expectation is that people will physically behave." The teen floor turns that expectation on its head. Instead of siphoning teens off into different rooms (and locking away noisy activities), the space is airy and completely open. The openness means, among other things, that it only takes one or two librarians to monitor the entire space.

The focal point of the floor is a 20-foot-diameter glass wall (with an open top) where kids can go to play Wii or Guitar Hero. (Special speakers create a column of sound that prevents most of the noise from filtering out).

L-shaped lounge benches can be rolled into a variety of positions. A bamboo bleacher offers plenty of seats for small groups to chat or work on homework. There's also a Snack+Chat Niche (the first time the fastidious NYPL broke its eating and drinking prohibition), and a Study Zone next to exam prep stacks.


Rice says his team renovated the floor on the cheap, using paint and low-cost materials to fill the space. "Teens appreciate the rawness," he says. "Rich materials might be a little bit of a turn-off."

The key, he says, is a space without much security, where kids feel free to just hang out. "It makes teens feel as if they have free reign over the space," he says. "They don't feel like they're under this intense adult scrutiny."

All images courtesy of Michael Moran and Rice+Lipka Architects

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.