Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture
Addition & Master Plan
New York, NY

10 MILLION ARTIFACTS • 2017 ADDITION BY MARBLE FAIRBANKS

Davis Brody Bond has completed multiple projects for the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center, one of the world’s leading institutions for the study of black culture. Our work began with a 1978 master plan that addressed the facilities potential for the Center’s McKim, Mead and White-designed building on 135th Street. We were retained to renovate this landmark 1905 structure and design an addition to triple its size.

The resulting Schomburg Center was completed in 1981. The main reading room and Special Collections are stacked octagonal drums that recall southern African house forms. West African Sapele wood is used for shelves and paneling in major spaces. The vigorously geometrical brick exterior responds to the neighborhood context and nods to the high proportion of masons among African-American construction workers.

In 1991, we added the 380-seat Langston Hughes Theater, which has a scenery loft and support spaces for full-scale dramatic and musical productions. We also did further work on the 1905 building to create new gallery, audio/video, and film archive facilities. These are augmented by film screening rooms and a small multi-purpose theater.

In 2001, we prepared an updated master plan assessing the Schomburg Center’s current space requirements. In the course of this work, we were pleased to find that the existing buildings are highly regarded and much-used both by the academic and local communities. In 2017, the firm Marble Fairbanks designed a glass street-level addition to the original building “to enhance how the Schomburg Center interfaces with the public and with the surrounding Harlem community by displaying portions of its vast collection and current events to the street.”