UNION is an interdisciplinary consortium convened to generate ideas about the future of New York City's public library systems. Bringing together accomplished expertise in design, planning, strategy, library science, technology, identity, and development, we are united in our commitment to the essential civic role of the library as a platform for public exchange, a gateway to information, and a linchpin of social infrastructure. You can learn more about our team through our bios, below.

The proposals here were developed as part of 'Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries', a design study organized by The Center for an Urban Future and The Architectural League of New York.

For more information about this work, please contact team lead Annie Barrett via annie (at) anniebarrett (dot) net.

The images on this site have been used to tell a fictional story. It has been produced by UNION and does not imply knowledge, participation, or support on behalf of any individuals who may be represented. All images of publications are works of fiction. Most of the images shown have been created by us from scratch, but some make use of pre-existing imagery. We would like to acknowledge the following groups, whose images we have used as the basis for our collages: Pluspool.org, Google Maps.

Timelapse video from one of many design sessions held in the autumn of 2014.


UNION was asked to imagine architectural possibilities for the future of New York City's Branch Libraries. All 207 of them. 

As a team we strongly believe in the importance of the quality of the built environmentmany of us have dedicated our lives to it. However, as we studied the challenge at hand we formed the opinion that better, more creative, or more inventive architecture is not the magic bullet that will transform New York's branch libraries. Renderings rarely drive change. Traditional campaigning also seems like an unlikely rescue. There is no magic bullet.

As they say, sometimes to solve a big problem, you have to make it bigger. Our design envisions not simply architectural innovation, but instead a portfolio of design and strategy proposals that together would build momentum around a reconceptualization of the city's branch libraries. This work has been presented as a designed future, told with a voice just a bit beyond today, and visualized using mundane scenes of everyday life.

Mapping, data analysis, desk research, and ethnographic fieldwork were all utilized as we developed our portfolio of proposals but these efforts are not the story, so they remain in the background.

By putting the narrative first we have chosen to put the emphasis on the way that the right ideas, in the right hands, at the right time, can change the course of our future.




Annie Barrett

Annie is a Brooklyn-based architect whose work explores the relationship between architectural form and civic transformation. She works with individuals and organizations to create unique spaces that nurture ambitions and express identity. Prior to forming her own studio in 2014, she spent six years as a senior project manager at Architecture Research Office where she led numerous cultural, non-profit, and municipal projects including the Flea Theater complex, The Greenwich South Strategic Framework, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design Strategic Plan. She has previously worked at other influential practices including Office dA and Preston Scott Cohen. Annie is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute and a Part Time Faculty member at Parsons/The New School. She holds a MArch from the Harvard GSD and a BA in Urban Studies from Yale University. 

Landon Brown

Landon is Director of VisionArc, a New York City think tank.  His work uses design, research, and visualization to address challenges affecting ecology, the built environment, and social cohesion. VisionArc has partnered with civic organizations such as the Brooklyn Public Library and NYCParks to help catalyze community participation and an understanding of complex systems. Landon has practiced with leading design offices in New York, Cambridge, Barcelona and Rotterdam.  He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002) and a Master of Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (2008).

Jane Lea 

Jane is a project architect at Architecture Research Office, where she has worked on a wide range of projects from a 1,000 sf passive house to a LGBT Synagogue. Jane has taught at Barnard/Columbia, the Cooper Union, and been a critic at multiple institutions including Columbia, Yale, Parsons, and Pratt. Jane is interested in creating a collaborative study of Architecture, integrating various fields and disciplines to refine program and building. 

Ann Baird Whiteside 

Ann is Librarian/Assistant Dean for Information Resources at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). The focus of her work is expanding digital resources in close collaboration with scholars and the use of technology to support teaching and research. She also actively works to re-envision of the space of the  century library through experimentation at the GSD, through a GSD course (Library 21stTest Kitchen), and through the Harvard Library. She is active in many professional organizations and committees that shape approaches to the changing needs and opportunities faced by research libraries in an increasingly digital environment.

Sapna Advani

Sapna has over sixteen years of experience in urban design and planning projects. Based in New York City, she is the Director of Planning and Urban Design at Grain Collective, a landscape architecture and urban design practice dedicated to a rich design process which incorporates research and collaboration from varied professionals to create a successful, aesthetically pleasing and experientially diverse environment. Prior to joining Grain Collective, she worked at other prominent practices including Beyer Blinder Belle and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Sapna holds a Masters in Architecture and Urban Design from Pratt Institute and a Bachelors of Architecture from Sushant School of Art and Architecture, New Delhi, India.

Scott Geiger

Scott lived and worked between NYC’s literary and architectural communities for almost a decade. He’s the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a NYFA Artist Fellowship for literature. His writing has appeared in The Believer, The Common, Conjunctions, Nautilus, and as an installed manuscript at Storefront for Art and Architecture. He led development and communications for Architecture Research Office (ARO), from 2006-2012, and currently holds a comparable post for Reed Hilderbrand in Cambridge, MA. He drafted works of published fiction in NYPL Ottendorfer, NYPL Schwarzman, and Philip Johnson’s NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. More at www.scott-geiger.com

Adriel Mesznik

Adriel is principal of Adriel Mesznik Architecture. Adriel brings his unique, multidisciplinary training and experience to a range of civic projects including urban furniture systems, amenity structures, freestanding buildings, streetscapes, and urban plazas. Adriel was previously a Senior Architect with WXY Architecture + Urban Design, where he oversaw the redesign of the Jefferson Market Branch LIbrary for NYPL, and projects for public clients including NYCDDC, NYCEDC, and NYCDPR. Adriel has over 10 years of experience in architecture, urban and strategic design, fabrication, and engineering. He has a Master of Architecture Degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (2008), and a BSE in Architecture and Civil Engineering from Princeton University (2001).

Bryan Boyer

Bryan is co-founder of Makeshift Society, a shared workspace and community center for creatives in San Francisco and Brooklyn. He’s also partner at Dash Marshall, a small studio designing buildings and the spaces between them, and serves on the Board of Directors at Public Policy Lab in NYC. While at  the Finnish Innovation Fund Bryan was a founding member of Helsinki Design Lab, an internationally-recognized platform for strategic design serving City Hall, numerous national Ministries, and Parliament. More at bryanboyer.com and @bryanboyer

Helen Han 

Helen is an architect/filmmaker in New York. Her past experience includes working with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects for 10 years on a variety of projects. She played a significant role as a lead designer for the Harvard University Common Spaces project, a large scale planning project that researched and proposed new ways of engagement through the existing infrastructure of the university to foster opportunities for interaction across the entire campus community. Her most recent film work includes documenting and communicating the design intent for Cornell University’s new technology campus on Roosevelt Island and the Rebuild by design proposal by WXY Architecture + Urban Design.

Ryan Thacker

Ryan studied graphic design at The University of the Arts, then went to work for Allemann Almquist and Jones, both in Philadelphia. In 2007 he made the move to NYC and the small but heavily decorated design studio Open. There, he became a Senior Designer, taking on a full spectrum of assignments -- from newsletters for the Westport Library to major signage projects at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Cornell University. In 2012 he was named one of the top 20 designers under age 30 by Print Magazine. In 2014 he opened Might Could, a design studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.