Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

West 53rd Street in Manhattan is home to the ever-expanding Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which fills close to half of the north side of the block between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas. While a roster of exhibitions draws more than a million visitors a year from all over the globe to its galleries, across the street a more local phenomenon is taking place: People are flocking to the public library.

Since it opened in 2016, the 53rd Street Library, designed by Mexico City and New York–based TEN Arquitectos with New York’s HLB Lighting Design, has become a destination for locals looking for a public space to work, study, or take in an event. The bright, 28,000-square-foot space defies the traditional definition of a musty branch library. While New York Public Library (NYPL) cardholders can still check out books, the library is designed to function as a kind of cultural and community hub. There are plenty of spots to plug in a laptop and patrons are allowed to bring in their lattes or lunchboxes. At its center is a double-height amphitheater; a cascade of wide oak bleachers that look out towards the street. The art and culture institutions on West 53rd Street like to partner with the library and hold events—such as a string quartet performance—in the space. “In an age of reading books on Kindles, people go to library to get work done,” says HLB senior principal and lighting designer Barbara Horton. “The stacks aren’t as important anymore.” Read More …