Alumni collective UNION reimagines the New York Public Library branch system

Five Harvard University Graduate School of Design alumni have contributed to the Architectural League of New York’s design study “Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries”. Operating as part of a collective called UNION, assembled and led by Annie Barrett (MArch ’08), they were one of five teams selected to participate in the study by the League and its partner Center for an Urban Future. The study aims to articulate new architectural, financial, and programmatic possibilities for New York’s public libraries. UNION’s interdisciplinary roster also featured classmates Bryan Boyer (MArch ’08), Landon Brown (MArch ’08), Helen Han (MArch ’08), and Adriel Mesznik (MArch ’08). Librarian/Assistant Dean for Information Resources Ann Baird Whiteside also contributed to the team’s research and design concepts.

Work on “Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries” began in September and completed on December 4 with a private symposium hosted by New York’s Japan Society. UNION’s contribution to the study envisions not simply architectural innovation, but rather a portfolio of design and strategy proposals that together build momentum toward the reconceptualization of the city’s branch libraries. Presented as a designed future, UNION describes their work with a voice just a bit beyond today, and visualized through scenes of everyday life.

If New York’s branch library system is to thrive, libraries must move from the margins of civic life to its center. UNION envisions a series of modest, creative actions, taken today that change the city dramatically tomorrow. These include a new kind of library card, one that accesses amenities and services across the city, a librarians-at-large corps, and pop-up book collections in trucks with livery commissioned from local artists. The radical strategies UNION has devised to fund the expansion and maintenance of the branches relies on a vibrant public life for libraries. Their campaign establishes a feed-forward loop: novel institutions that strengthen the community, which in turn strengthen the library. Libraries become the linchpin of New York City’s social infrastructure.

A debut public presentation and exhibition of work from “Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries” will take place Monday, January 12, 2015, at the New School.