LFL/NYC Design Statements and Concept Renderings

Little Free Library/NYC
“Take a book, return a book”

Little Free Library/NYC is a joint project of PEN World Voices Festival and The Architectural League of New York, and is realized in collaboration with Little Free Library, LTD.

The Little Free Library movement places small book shelters in neighborhoods and is based on the premise of “take a book, return a book.” Established less than three years ago, Little Free Libraries now sponsors over 5,000 libraries worldwide.

PEN World Voices Festival and The Architectural League of New York partnered to bring Little Free Library to New York City. A jury of Laurie Anderson, Andy Bernheimer, A.M. Homes, Scott Marble, Shannon Mattern, and Peter Mullan selected 10 architecture teams to each design and install a Little Free Library in collaboration with a host community organization. The libraries will be installed during the upcoming IDEAS CITY festival, for which the League is a partner organization, and will be in use through September 1, 2013, when they will be evaluated to determine their longevity into the fall.

Below, the chosen design teams present concept renderings and short statements about the libraries they plan to install during the IDEAS CITY StreetFest, on Saturday, May 4, 2013. These renderings present initial conceptual illustrations of the final designs.

As part of the PEN World Voices and IDEAS CITY festivals, a walking tour of the libraries will take place on Saturday, May 4, 2013. For more information on the Architectural League’s other events held as part of the IDEAS CITY festival, click here.

UPDATE: The IDEAS CITY Festival has passed. The Little Free Library installations will be on view through September 1, 2013, and can be visited at any time. For a map of the sites, click here.


Cevan Castle

Designer: Cevan Castle
Community Partner: The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center

Libraries are shelters for people, as well as books. Children, especially, rely on libraries as a safe destination outside of home or school. Books are not the only attraction. The activities that congregate in and around the library collection—such as storytelling, tutoring, clubs—allow children to connect with each other and share in a safe place. New York City is not particularly friendly to children. The presence of a neighborhood library gives our smaller residents a destination and means of connection. I propose that Little Free Libraries could help children find an anchor in an otherwise adult-sized landscape.

Cevan Castle graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation in May 2012 with a Master of Architecture. Castle is currently an Artist Teacher at the Joan Mitchell Foundation and works independently as a sculpture and fabricator.


Cooper Union

Design TeamThe Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture’s Design III studio with Maja Hjertén Knutson and Christopher Taleff, design leaders; Michael Young, David Allin and Lydia Kallipoliti, faculty team
Community Partner: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Architecture

Over the past year, the Third Year Design Studio at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union has been engaged in the study of the library as a building type. The Fall semester had the students embroiled in intensive analysis of library precedents (15 projects from Michelangelo’s 1532 Laurentian Library to Fujimoto’s 2010 Musashino Art University Library). The spring semester finds the students deep into the design of their own library proposals, developing some startling re-imaginations of the library condition. Our proposal is to have the entire studio work on a charrette to propose and debate, with a selected design fabricated and installed by the studio as a whole.

We propose siting the project at The Cooper Union. One of Peter Cooper’s original programs for his “Union” was a free reading room on the first floor of the Foundation Building. At the time it opened, all libraries in New York City were private, requiring membership for entry. The Cooper Union’s reading room was open Monday through Saturday (and Sunday beginning in 1872), from 8 in the morning until 10 at night. It subscribed to over 200 periodicals: 15 domestic and foreign newspapers (twelve from New York alone), 64 domestic and foreign weeklies, 108 magazines, 22 French papers and magazines, and 26 German papers and magazines. Within months, the Reading Room was hosting 3,000 visitors per week, also providing free ink and paper for writing. By 1863, its subscriptions had climbed to over 270 foreign and domestic publications, a reference library boasted 4,000 volumes, and the room received 4,000 visitors per week, more than all other reading rooms and libraries in the city combined.

It is through the inspiration of this first historic reading room at Cooper that the students wish to approach the project, re-emphasizing the book itself, the act of reading, and the potential for a free exchange unconstrained by curatorial oversight. The Little Free Library offers the potential for respite and a moment’s escape from the city, but chance encounter as well. The project echoes Cooper’s own ethos of the exchange of thought, ideas, and knowledge, “as free as air and water.”


Davies Tang Toews

Design TeamDavies Tang + Toews
Community Partner: La MaMa

Books are a point of contact, whether recognized or not, between two people and the infinite unseen world, a share across time and space. We feel this when we see someone reading on the train, an exchange now diminished by the introduction of technology.

Our interest in the Little Free Libraries lies in a love of the abandoned beauty and importance of books. We find its counterpart in the desire to reclaim
 lost locations of human exchange: phone booths, postage windows, ticket kiosks that are never open anymore. This project is a chance to re-purpose this infrastructure and remind us of what has been lost, to show two missing things complementing each other, falling in love again.

Davies Tang + Toews is an architecture and design firm based in Brooklyn. Our work includes residential, institutional and commercial projects, small inventions, and teaching. In May 2011, we designed and built Tentstop, in collaboration with the PARC Foundation. Seven custom canvas tents were constructed to describe and simulate camping in the city, housing site models, illustrative dioramas and a children’s working table for the deployment of playful cities within cities.



Design Team: Stereotank
Community Partner: St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School and The They Co.

It’s been often said that books are threatened by digital books, whereas physical books keep in their materiality the advantage of being power free (other than the embedded energy from their production).

We like thinking of the presence of the book in the urban scenario and dynamics as a place-maker, a spot to stop and take the time to browse.

Envisioning the book ‘container’ as a micro inhabitable bookshelf. Built with repurposed materials and objects.

Marcelo Ertorteguy and Sara Valente, trained as architects and founders of Stereotank, hold Master degrees from Columbia University and have participated and been awarded in urban art programs and festivals such as the Kobe Biennale in Japan, ZooArt in Italy and Summer Streets in NYC. Stereotank focuses on the investigation, design and creation of inhabitable / operable installations and music machines for public creative engagement by repurposing and recycling existing resources.


Design TeamShannon HarveyAdam Michaels, and Levi Murphy
Community Partner: Hester Street Collaborative

Comprised of an urban designer, a book designer, and a furniture designer, each member of our team focuses on the accessibility of ideas for broad publics and the positive role that designers can have on society. We see physical books as a crucial means of communicating ideas amongst individuals, importantly circumventing the “digital divide” of electronic media. We’re enthusiastic about the prospect of designing a unique distribution point for readers to encounter information that they might not otherwise have access to. Further, with this project we seek to participate in current discourse surrounding distribution models and
 gift economies.

Shannon Harvey is a design strategist and urban and architectural designer living and working in New York City. Shannon is currently working as a design strategist at the Rockwell Group. In 2012, Shannon founded The Colour Store, a project platform from which she explores the role of colour in the built environment and writes about significant colour from the history of architecture. Shannon holds a M.Arch, specializing in Urban Design, from McGill University, as well as a B.Des from Emily Carr Institute.

Adam Michaels is the cofounder of Project Projects, a design studio in New York producing commissioned work and independent curatorial, editorial, and publishing projects. Michaels edits and designs the Inventory Books paperback series (published by Princeton Architectural Press). Michaels holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Levi Murphy is a furniture designer and builder living and working in Brooklyn, NY. In 2013 Levi established Communal Objects, a studio focused on functional modern design. Murphy holds an MFA in Furniture Design and Sculpture, and a BFA in Photography from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.


Design Team: Forrest Jessee and Brigette Borders, studio point 0
Community Partner: Abrons Art Center/Henry Street Settlement

Little Free Libraries not only promotes literacy, but offers the possibility of curated social interaction around learning. Mobile and web-based resources have streamlined the experience of gathering and reading news and literature, yet single platform consumption neuters the content. The sensory experience of reading a printed book can be observed, cherished, envied, and inspire knowledge sharing. A Little Free Library in New York City should emphasize what has been lost in digital platforms by offering a media space to connect readers, harness a microcosm of reading lists and interests, and inspire the immediacy of sharing.

Jessee and Borders graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation with Masters in Architecture in 2009. Jessee is a designer at Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Borders is the Director of Business Development at Flatcut, LLC. Both currently teach at Columbia University and recently co-founded studio point 0.


Design Team: stpmj
Community PartnerFourth Arts Block

The Little Free Library is an opportunity to engage diverse demographic groups and ages while creating a small place to share books, interests and ideas instantly throughout the city. We are interested in investigating an extremely light intervention for the Little Free Library that focuses on its ability to move and change location. Imagining a volume that could be split and be transported easily, maximum accessibility and adaptability to engage with residual urban infrastructure, light poles, street signages, metro or bus stations, benches and trees, will be explored. From Wall Street to Harlem, the proposal will seek to provide equal access to all while adding new diverse micro communities to the metropolitan city.

Seung Teak Lee and Mi Jung Lim founded stpmj in 2009. stpmj’s work ranges from “small installations to urban strategies, tangible practices and utopian ideas with the theme of provocative realism.” Lee and Lim hold Masters degrees in Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.



Design Team: Matter Practice
Community Partner: New York University 

The public lending library is a repository of knowledge made available to anyone; arguably the concept cannot be separated from the ideals of democratic society. It allows all of us to travel light, keeping what we’ve learned in our heads, yet leaving the tools to be shared with others. The city fosters the chance encounter, unexpected intimacy between strangers, the moment of finding slowness within a place of great speed, an anonymous inheritance, a gift for one unknown.

Our little library for New York would aspire to package these possibilities.

Matter Practice was co-founded in 2002 by Sandra Wheeler and Alfred Zollinger. MATTER’s work encompasses exhibition design, installations, furnishings, and proposals for civic engagement within the public environment. Zollinger is also Director of The Design Workshop, the design/build program at Parsons The New School for Design.


Designer: Chat Travieso
Community Partner: Two Bridges Neighborhood Council

My work seeks to restore social bonds that are lacking in our public spaces through critical and poetic urban interventions. That is why The Little Free Libraries movement is especially inspiring for its dedication to the ideals of sharing and trust. In line with the movement’s commitment to sustainability, I am interested in repurposing overlooked objects and spaces in our existing built environment for this project. I believe Little Free Libraries are important because they are a catalyst to get people to think, both through reading and by participating in a system that challenges a culture of over-consumption and privatization.

Chat Travieso received a Master in Architecture from Yale University in 2010. Travieso is currently a set designer for Kwaidan, a multimedia opera installation, and a teaching artist at The Center for Urban Pedagogy.


Design TeamMark Rakatansky Studio with Aaron White
Community Partner: University Settlement

The library today is the new civic center: to bring that civic mode out into the city — right there on the sidewalk with you — engages new interactions between fellow readers. In 1905, the University Settlement’s collection of 6,500 books inaugurated the collection of the Carnegie “Free to All” Library next door at 61 Rivington Street. In 2013, our Little Free Library returns and redistributes the favor, using what is usually the barrier of the urban fence to keep others out as a way now to be able to reach into and out from, in a civic redistribution of the borders of what is public.

Mark Rakatansky is Principal of Mark Rakatansky Studio and teaches at Columbia University, Pratt Institute, and Parsons The New School for Design. Aaron White is Associate at Mark Rakatansky Studio and teaches at Pratt Institute and Parsons The New School for Design.


This online feature documents the evolution of the Little Free Library / NYC project. In April, the selected design teams shared these concept renderings of their planned libraries. In May, we looked at the installation of the ten small book shelters during the IDEAS CITY festival. In July, we published an interview with Rick Brooks, one of the co-founders of Little Free Library, LTD, as well as design guidelines and installation instructions from each of the design teams.

Little Free Library / NYC Project Team
Architectural League of New York: Anne Rieselbach, Program Director; Ian Veidenheimer, Program Associate; Daniel Rojo, Assistant Editor, Urban Omnibus; Alexandra Hay and Catherine Bryt, Program Interns.

PEN World Voices Festival : Jakab Orsós, Festival and Public Programs Director; Elizabeth Weinstein, Festival & Public Programs Manager; Charis Holt, Intern

Development Consultant: Jennifer Douglas, Brooklyn Cottage