With the latest design released Wednesday, the Schenectady County Public Library project has gone from ill-fated to illness producing. The curvilinear, mostly glass addition that tries oh-so-hard to be modern doesn’t fit with the existing architecture and doesn’t even resemble a library. In the end, it just looks silly.
Why can’t the board of trustees (which has raised around $2.5 million for the project) and the county Legislature, (which will contribute another $1.5 million or so), respect what is there? While the old library, built in 1965, isn’t the most beautiful building, it is not bad, a mix of modern and classic design that is in proportion and pleasing enough to look at — combining brick, cast concrete and some glass, with repeating columns and arches over a walkway at ground level and a band of concrete at the top. Despite the modern elements, it has a certain solidity and dignity.
The previous expansion design, which would have pushed the current children’s section out to the sidewalk on the Clinton Street side and added a grander entrance, was much better. But it had its own problems, the biggest of which was the elimination of the architecturally distinctive McChesney Room. Eventually the plan was dropped, and the entire project scaled back, when it was discovered, at the last minute, that the work would require closing the main branch for a year or more.
That resulted in a lot of anger on the part of library trustees and an unfortunate delay, which has now been compounded by this unfortunate new design. While we were surprised by the design, we wouldn’t have been had we known whom the county hired a few months ago to create it: the same architects who did the new Center City (which fits in well on the State Street side, but is badly out of context and out of scale on the Jay Street side).
Like that design, this one features too much glass (except the library side panels are curved, similar to a Quonset hut or airplane hangar), with a couple of weird-looking brick and concrete beams added as flourishes. The glass sides and one of those beams lean in, giving the viewer a slightly off-balance feeling. And the whole thing is set back from the street, breaking a basic downtown design principle. It’s all a far cry from the beautiful, recently completed library project in Glens Falls, where the new construction, even with plenty of glass, achieves a unity with the old.
The community has waited a long time for this needed library expansion. It can wait a while longer to get a better design. That wouldn’t be hard at all.