Walt Whitman Library’s new look is up to its patrons.
Over the next few years, the Fort Greene branch will undergo a restoration and expansions of its three levels and outside garden to “bring the library to the modern era,” according to Brooklyn Public Library representatives. Before the work begins, Hester Street, an urban planning nonprofit, will hold a conversation with library staff and the architects spearheading the project for community members to share ideas on what the new design should offer.
“We take seriously what the community wants,” said Fritzi Bodenheimer, BPL’s press officer. “That’s why we have libraries and what we have them for.”
The virtual workshop will take place on Zoom on Thursday, July 21, from 6-7:30pm.
The Edwards Street library was built in 1908 and is usually open seven days a week, well into the evenings. The building has an entirely open 7,000 square foot interior, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.
“As it is, we don’t have enough outlets, wire furniture and the air conditioning units are old,” said Bodenheimer. “Those small things really make a big difference.”
The Brooklyn Public Library Organization is rehabilitating over a third of its libraries with projects ranging from small restorations to full-scale renovations.
According to Hester Street’s stated mission, the organization’s goal is equitable, sustainable and resilient neighborhoods and cities — and making sure community members have a hand in building and designing them.
“Our work results in concrete community benefits, builds community power and ensures community members are decision-makers in planning, design and development,” their website explains.
The design firm Belmont Freeman Architects will be in charge of the renovations. Their portfolio is characterized by minimalist spaces designed for people to gather, with a focus on adaptive reuse and the preservation of historic details.
“We have a lot of flexibility in designing the renovation,” said Monty Freeman, founder of BFA. “The Walt Whitman branch is a beautiful classical building and we tend to approach those with a lot of respect, but also with minimalist modern interventions that add newness spaces.”
The firm’s previous projects include the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center in Manhattan, commissioned by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; and the LGBTQ Carriage House of the University of Pennsylvania, which underwent total renovation to create meeting rooms, a library, offices, a large multi-purpose lounge, a catering kitchen and a new elevator.
BFA has also renovated the New York Public Library’s Grand Concourse Branch in the Bronx, the children’s reading rooms at the Aguilar Branch in East Harlem, the Bloomingdale Branch on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Coney Island Library in Brooklyn.
“We’re well aware of the different functions that public libraries serve these days, so we are pretty confident that we’ll be able to create something that’s going to be of relevance to the Fort Greene community,” said Freeman.
The architect says people attending Thursday’s event are welcome to use their imagination and wants to motivate them to identify why they would want to go to the library. He is taking into consideration the library’s proximity to multiple schools and the Stonewall house, the largest LGBTQ+ friendly elder housing development in the country.
“We need to make sure that the building projects a welcoming and inclusive image,” he said. “Right now, the library doesn’t have such a terrific public space since the property is fenced. The whole entrance can be made more inviting and accessible, so that senior citizens can navigate the facility easily, as well as a new elevator that is terribly needed.”
You can RSVP for the event, here.