Twenty years in the making, the new Hunters Point Library in Long Island City will open this upcoming Tuesday, September 24th. Yesterday, we were given a sneak peek inside the striking new library, designed by Steven Holl Architects, as the Queens Library staff prepares for the grand opening. The Hunters Point Library is really like no other library in the city right now — a thoughtfully designed, thoroughly modern civic structure that will be an inspiring place for learning in the 21st century. It certainly makes its mark on the Queens skyline, complementing and punctuating the uniformity of the residential skyscrapers that have come to define this portion of the waterfront. Through it all, the experience remains distinctly site specific, responding to the surroundings while providing an embrace of the Manhattan waterfront just across the East River.

The idea for a library here was first advocated by local community members in 1988 who formed a committee to push the cause with local officials.This project is particularly meaningful to Councilmember Jimmy van Bramer, who has seen this project from genesis to completion, beginning when he worked at the Queens Library from 1999 to 2009. Bramer said yesterday, “One of the things that I feel so good about, that all of us stuck to, was to have an architecturally significant library that is a good as the people of Queens and is aspirational. Library design, even back to the Carnegie days was very aspirational. It was meant to uplift the citizenry and while this building is very different from a traditional Carnegie [library], it is an aspirational civic structure for this century.” Clearly moved, Van Bramer calls the new Hunters Point Library “probably the single most important project of my life.” The building will also be LEED Silver certified for its environmental sustainability measures — something that can be attributed to NYC’s Department of Design and Construction’s Bloomberg-era initiative, Design and Construction Excellence, that aimed to improve the quality of public projects.

The Hunters Point Library’s noble form on the Queens waterfront was not foreordained however, whether by financial pressures or by design queries, but it is clear that those involved feel that staying true to the priorities has yielded the most ideal structure. Many typologies for the building were pondered early on, but the team at Steven Holl quickly realized that the building would be lost amidst its neighbors if it did not have enough height. “A decision was made to compress the floor plan into a simple rectangle and organize the program vertically,” said Olaf Schmidt, Senior Associate at Steven Holl Architects., at yesterday’s event. Such verticality is most present in the entrance atrium, which extends upwards sixty feet and provides a glimpse of what is beyond, alluding to what can be discovered inside the new library.

The exterior is made of cast-in-place concrete with a flakeboard layer that takes the texture of the concrete and is then painted silver, which provides a shimmering effect particularly in the raking light in the morning and early evening. This innovation was not costly or difficult, but is effective in creating visual interest on the facade. And despite a simple building envelope, the library is punctuated with organically shaped window cuts which frame the view of the Manhattan skyline on one side, and loosely correspond to the three main program areas  — children, teen, and adults — on the Long Island City side.

The interior is in a two-color palette of bamboo wood and silver/gray, with the books intended to pop amidst the simple and soothing color scheme. There will be 50,000 books, movies, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and albums at the Hunters Point Library, including large selections in Chinese and Spanish for the local community. Magazines are displayed in a terraced reading area that has couch seating and tables, while the stacks on the levels above have seating along long wooden countertops.

Four nautical portals around the Hunters Point Library are Percent for Art installations by Juilanne Swartz, called “Four Direction from Hunters Point” that show a distorted view of the Manhattan skyline and surrounding Long Island City area. This sense of discovery extends into the Children’s Room, which will have an early childhood area with toys and board books, and regular programming. The library will also be home to the Hunters Point Environmental Center, an all-age program about plant and marine life, pollution, composting, recycling, and more. A 140-person meeting room with a stage and view out to the city is on the ground floor, where there will events like slime making for kids on Halloween and adult trivia, said Euni Chang, the Hunters Point Library Manager.

Connectivity is also a key aspect of the new library, though technology is designed to take second stage to the architecture. There will be 32 desktop computers and 12 laptops atop wooden tables and chairs. In the teen area, amphitheater-style seating rises up from space with computers and bookshelves, emphasizing that this is predominantly a place to read and connect with others. The countertop seating next to the book stacks have a plethora of outlets, but they are somewhat concealed beneath an overhang. Also note the subtle lighting beneath the handrails and the backlighting on the stacks — cues from retail interior design that add modernity to the library. In nearly all the branches of the Queens Library, 24/7 return book capability is available, and here a modern silver kiosk with touch screen will receive books next to the entrance.

The new Hunters Point Library opens at 4 PM on Tuesday, September 24th. Check out some additional photographs in the slideshow below and see for yourself next week!

Next, check out 10 Fun Facts about the Hunters Point South Park, a gorgeous counterpart to the library that should not be missed.