The library is short on dollars but rich with social capital, and it begins to use this as leverage to foster partnerships with key institutions.

Cultural institutions begin transforming their own programs to engage the expanding library audience. With these institutions comes new collaborations, and in some cases funding. 

In other words, the small investments the library made in enhancing its own visibility helped unlock larger pools of social and financial capital. Think of this as institutional leverage.

For example, museums like MoMA/PS1 begin to redirect their energy and resources, selecting the more socially and politically relevant site of a library roof structure as the focus of their annual Young Architects Program that draws the attention of the best and brightest young designers. With this new social focus for the program, MoMA and the library system together are further able to leverage private capital from companies eager to donate their building materials and construction time to be part of a high profile, socially-positive project.

After seeing MoMA de-risk the idea of pairing maintenance needs with innovative architecture, the City moves forward to launch a comprehensive “Radical Maintenance program” to address the Library system’s $800M in state of good repair needs.

Radical Maintenance represents a bold change in the way spending on libraries happens by leveraging required repair costs to meaningfully transform the image and the experience of library buildings.

The program begins with a focus on the so-called ‘Lindsay Boxes’ designed and built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These are typically small, single-story structures which were built quickly as part of an ambitious campaign to expand the branch system through the outer boroughs.

What was sacrificed in grandeur was made up for in number. There are over 65 of these modest structures across the city, and they expanded the reach of the library system to neighborhoods in need.

These outdated buildings are in need of major infrastructural repairs with massive capital needs which are essential in order to keep the doors open, yet invisible, and therefore fraught as the center point of a potential capital campaign. 

Branches are evaluated for inclusion in the Radical Maintenance Program based on the scope of required upgrades.  Those with the highest need are selected first, seen below as the brightest hotspots on the needs matrix.

A catalog of simple interventions provides enough variety to meet diverse needs. All of the approaches fix invisible maintenance issues by using highly visible repair solutions. This addresses functional basics while enhancing the library’s presence in its local community.

This set of design patterns expedites the design process while leaving enough room for innovations on a case by case basis.

For example, a library like Hillcrest in queens, which has $1.4M in state-of-good-repair needs including a new roof, all new mechanical system, and comprehensive electrical upgrades, would already require considerable demolition of the ceiling, roof structure and intervention in existing exterior walls. 

Through the Radical Maintenance Program, Hilllcrest is transformed to welcome the street and offer an iconic silhouette to the neighborhood. An image from a few years ago can be seen on the left, the current view on the right.

This renovation also transforms the use and organization of the building by bringing daylight into an otherwise deep and dark space. 

Strategic insertions like these help the library get the most out of expenditures that are currently only used to maintain the status quo, moving from budget allocations that merely seal the roof, to considered investments that make the roof an embodied symbol of what libraries offer. 

At the Mcgoldrick branch the roof becomes an occupiable public space for community gatherings. 

In Queens, more light is brought deeper into the space by adding clerestory windows behind a decorative screen.

On 68th street in Brooklyn (left two images below), a blocky, impenetrable building is opened to the street with a new façade.

In Flushing (right two images below) a completely blank wall becomes an opportunity to create a strong connection to the street, showing what’s happening inside.

The radical maintenance program is not only about restoring buildings to a state of good repair, but also taking the opportunity to consider forward-thinking resilience. Libraries have come to function as critical flexible spaces in times of need, such as during a natural disaster.

The single story library in Red Hook is one of many Lindsay Boxes that sit in a flood zone. No matter how much repair is done here, rising tides will always be a threat.

To address this, the library is elevated and a new space is created below. Community activities that happen in this public space are captured in the mirrored underside of the building while the new mirrored roof offers environmental benefits, and also reflects the sky and extends the library presence beyond even the scale of the city.    


In Chapter III, Radical Maintenance becomes a new civic attitude that expands well beyond the library's walls.