Chat Travieso

A bite-sized bookshelf greets readers in English, Spanish and Chinese.

This bite-sized bookshelf has an amazing talent -- it can greet visitors in English, Spanish and Chinese, simultaneously.

It makes its home amidst the red-brick apartment buildings of Manhattan's Lower East Side. It's called "Word Play," and it's one of a dozen tiny libraries [map] to emerge this summer in Lower Manhattan as part of a campaign by the Architectural League of New York and the PEN World Voice Festival, in collaboration with the Little Free Libraries movement.

Designer Chat Travieso, like the competition's other artists, worked with a neighborhood organization, in his case Two Bridges, to design a little library that would suit its surroundings. Unlike some of its contemporaries, it is in a location with few tourist visits.

One challenge was the neighborhood's trilingual composition -- residents speak English, Spanish and Chinese in equal measure. Using 3D modeling software and projections, Travieso found a clever way to make his library inviting to all three communities.

Kids from the Two Bridges after-school program, pictured below, helped him with its construction. "We talked about colors, they got to see the library in process, and then they actually helped me paint the panels and trace the letter," Travieso says.

The middle panel houses an honor-based lending library -- give a book, take a book -- and the seats face towards the East River, which is not far away. Though seating is limited, nearby park benches accommodate overflow readers.

The library is scheduled to come down in September, but, Travieso says, if Two Bridges and residents are happy with the project, they might keep it up longer. He's been back a few times since its installation last month, and says the reception has been excellent. "Hopefully it stays up!"

All images courtesy of Chat Travieso.

About the Author

Henry Grabar

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.   

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