The New York Public Library
South Court
New York, NY

42,500 SF • 3,950 SQ M

South Court is the only major addition ever made to the New York Public Library’s venerable Fifth Avenue flagship — and a quantum leap forward for its public education and administrative facilities. In an open courtyard that originally served as an entrance for horse carriages, Davis Brody Bond has inserted an elegant and contemporary seven-story “building-in-a-building.” It houses an electronic teaching center, an orientation theater, an auditorium, administrative offices, and a staff lounge on the glass-walled top floor. As an addition to Carrère and Hastings’ landmark building, the project could not be visible from the street, so Davis Brody Bond excavated two additional levels to provide the needed space for the program. To protect the historic building fabric and allow the library remain in full operation, structural steel was craned in over the roof from 40th Street in the early morning. All other material was brought in through a service entrance, and we reviewed every element to make sure it would fit through the existing corridors.

The South Court stands almost completely free of the original structure, only lightly touching its facades where connections are required. The existing marble walls of the courtyard are revealed to the public for the first time, and natural light pours down in the gap between historic and new. The original foundation walls are exposed at the bottom of a glass staircase descending to a 186-seat auditorium. Davis Brody Bond worked closely with the Library to achieve an appropriately modern and transparent expression that sustains the original building’s integrity.