This New York Public Library Just Got a $200 Million Makeover — Complete With a Free Public Rooftop

Borrowing books isn't the only free service this library offers.

New York Public Library Manhattan location rooftop and interior renovations
Photo: Max Touhey

A new rooftop terrace is about to open in Manhattan, but unlike the others in town, this one will be free.

Following a $200 million renovation, the New York Public Library's former Mid-Manhattan Library has transformed into the 180,000-square-foot Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. As part of the upgrade, the utilitarian roof was re-envisioned, and the new design features an L-shaped outdoor space, which will be the city's only publicly accessible rooftop terrace without an admission price.

New York Public Library Manhattan location rooftop and interior renovations
Max Touhey

However, while the new library opened its doors this week in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the rooftop terrace will remain closed until state guidelines allow it to welcome visitors.

In the meantime, visitors can step into the library system's largest circulating branch and see the new indoor centerpiece, called the Long Room, with five levels of browsable book stacks opening up to a 42-foot high atrium. It also features both long tables and ceiling artwork, echoing the style of the famed Rose Main Reading Room in the NYPL's flagship, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, diagonally up the street. While the stacks allow the new library to maintain a 400,000 book capacity, its design also looks ahead to future formats, with flexible shelving options.

Limited browsing is currently available, and computer use is by appointment on the first four floors; the fifth floor is open only for research appointments.

Related: New York Public Library Announces the Most Checked-out Book in Honor of Its 125th Anniversary

New ground floor of NYPL
John Bartelstone

Other additions to the new building, which is located at the southeast corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, include twice as much seating capacity; the 21,000-square-foot Thomas Yoseloff Business Center; a 26,000-square-foot space for kids and teens with a podcasting studio, and the 20,000-square-foot Pasculano Learning Center for adult education classes (currently also closed).

New York Public Library Manhattan location rooftop and interior renovations
Max Touhey

When guidelines allow it to open, the rooftop will reveal a "wizard's hat" design that's a nod to the patinated copper-clad mansard roofs of the Beaux Art style often found in midtown. Surrounding it is a programming room enclosed in glass, plus an indoor public cafe alongside the terrace.

"The transformed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library shows our city is coming back better than ever before," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the ceremony on June 1. "The city invested in this landmark institution because we know it will be a place to connect New Yorkers to each other and to the world beyond our city. This is what a recovery for all of us looks like."

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library's original building opened in 1915 as the Arnold Constable & Company department store before the NYPL took over the space in 1970s. In 1978, an adaptive renovation was done, but it still felt more like a store than a library. The current renovation began in 2017, designed by Dutch architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo architects, who also renovated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

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