On October 20, the Greenpoint Library in Brooklyn, New York, reopened after a three-year reconstruction. The old, drab brick building from the 1970s has doubled in size and boasts a modern design with ample outdoor space.
Moreover, it is no longer just a library. Thanks to funding from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund – settlement money for a serious oil spill that occurred less than a mile and a half over more than a century – the building also serves as an environmental education center. Once it is safe for New Yorkers to come together again, the library will serve as a hub for locals to learn about and take action on environmental issues.
Many modern libraries include sustainable design cues, and the new Greenpoint Library is no exception: architectural firm Marble Fairbanks and landscape architectural firm Scape have included eco-friendly components, including a green roof. sustainable, solar panels and a cistern for rainwater management. The building tracks and displays its energy consumption, which is reduced thanks to LED lights, light sensors, energy efficient glazing, sun shading devices and well-insulated building panels.
But the Greenpoint Library goes further: after discussions with local community groups, the architects designed two large flexible ‘eco-labs’ with sinks, refrigeration, storage, ample counter space and digital projectors, to that community groups host interactive projects. There is the cistern for collecting rainwater, which Ames O’Neill, project manager at the Brooklyn Public Library, hopes librarians and teachers will use as an educational tool, and a rooftop garden, which the students or local community groups can plant and maintain.
“We want the residents of the neighborhood to understand the importance of sustainability and the fight against climate change,” says Linda Johnson, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library. “Everything is designed to promote awareness of what happens when we don’t take care of the environment.
So far, the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund has distributed $ 17 million to 47 local projects, but the library is the fund’s first center to link community sustainability efforts. “The grant money has been spent on great environmental programs, but it’s all fleeting,” says Dewey Thompson, founder of the North Brooklyn Community Boathouse and a member of the Greenpoint Library Community Advisory Committee, a group formed by the Brooklyn Public Library to advise on the design and functions of the new building.
“We thought the library could be a brick-and-mortar hub with a lot of resources, and all of those existing but much smaller, environmentally focused organizations around the community could tap into that central hub,” Thompson continues. “In that way, it’s really a legitimate description of the library as an environmental center.”
“Our goal was not only to make this building a model of sustainable construction practices, but to make it an educational tool,” notes O’Neill. Throughout the building, she adds, there are signs explaining various sustainable building materials, such as the boardroom walls lined with timber from trees native to Greenpoint.
There is now virtual environmental programming with upcoming in-person events; Thompson is already considering how the North Brooklyn Community Boathouse will benefit from green labs. “We have something called the Citizens Water Quality Testing Group, connected across the city, where volunteers go out every week and take water samples, take it to labs and compile that data,” he explains. “It has a story that can be archived in the library and it’s an ongoing activity that we could include in the library, giving presentations to groups and taking them on boats to do this fieldwork.”
When it comes to monitoring environmental data and community engagement, there is the Greenpoint Environmental History Project, which documents local environmental history through oral histories and community analysis, in which local residents scan photos, documents and other related materials. The library will highlight parts of the project inside the branch and hope to offer tablets for customers to browse through the collection, which is fully preserved. in digital format.
O’Neill and Johnson both stress that in the age of digital technology, libraries need to be both creative and flexible when it comes to disseminating information. “Library service and technology will change over time, and it’s important to have different ways of supporting different services throughout the building,” says O’Neill. Johnson called it “a prime example of what a library should be in the 21st century.”
It is unique, however, that this library has seized the opportunity to engage its visitors on the future of the planet, suggesting that there is an important role for libraries as we increasingly face the climate crisis.
“It’s very important to have a space,” says Thompson, “but to have a space so beautifully and purposefully designed to support this conversation and this work? It’s just awesome.
Editor’s note: We fixed the attribution of two citations in this article.