New York Public Library cans £200m Norman Foster revamp

Senior Reporter

Norman Foster has expressed his “sadness” at the scrapping of his firm’s controversial £208 million revamp of the New York Public Library building in the heart of Manhattan.

The celebrated architect’s company Foster + Partners had been enlisted to redesign the Library’s century-old Beaux-Arts research building on Fifth Avenue, clearing away its ageing book stacks and converting the space into a giant public lending library.

Although the firm’s full plans for the building have never been made public, initial drawings drew howls of protest from local writers, academics and preservationists, with one critic labelling the Foster design as having “all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall”.

New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned against the renovations during last year’s municipal elections, and last week hundreds of protesters gathered outside the building during a meeting of trustees. But the most obvious reason for the U-turn is the project’s increasing price tag.

The Library, which now intends to refurbish its Mid-Manhattan branch instead, reportedly paid Foster + Partners £5.3 million for the work. The redevelopment project is expected to receive £89 million from the public purse and the sale of other buildings.

Foster + Partners declined to comment, but Lord Foster told The New York Times: “Obviously, I respect the decision of the trustees and whoever’s been involved in the decision. If I have any kind of sadness on the thing – besides obviously not having the project going ahead and having spent a huge amount of passion on the project with colleagues – it is that the proposals have never been revealed, and there hasn’t really been a debate by those involved, including those who would have benefited from an inclusive approach to the library.”

The Stephen A Schwarzman Building, designed by the Carrère and Hastings firm of architects and constructed in 1911, has a vast archive of books contained in its lower levels, feeding the studies of those who gather in the celebrated Rose Main Reading Room above.

The redesign, known as the Central Library Plan and dating back to 2008, would have seen 1.5 million books sent to a warehouse in New Jersey with the resulting space used to create a four-level modern lending library overlooking Bryant Park, complete with sofas and computer terminals.

The library’s chief executive officer Anthony Marks said of the plans in 2011: “To the degree that we can... replace books with people, that’s the future of where libraries are going.” But writers who used the reading room regularly said the creation of a lending library below was a betrayal of the building’s original research purpose.

It did not take long for them to mobilise and attack the plans, which eventually attracted several different lawsuits. Shortly after Foster + Partners released its initial schematics in December 2012, Michael Kimmelman, a critic for The New York Times, wrote: “To me, what results is an awkward, cramped, banal pastiche of tiers facing claustrophobia-inducing windows, built around a space-wasting atrium with a curved staircase more suited to a Las Vegas hotel.” In response, Lord Forster described the diatribe as “both offensive and premature”.

It has been a tough month for Britain’s largest architectural practice. In April it wrote down the value of its business by nearly £130 million after revising forecasts for its international division, for which it blamed the “tough economic environment”.

Last week it emerged that the Foster-designed Harmon Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip is to be razed without ever opening, after a protracted legal battle between owners MGM Resorts International and contractors over various defects.

However, the firm’s work on the library project may not be entirely wasted: some of its designs may still be used in the creation of new public spaces inside the building, according to The New York Times.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future