Dating back to 1970, the Tate Library at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale, the Bronx, might not be as old as the institution it serves (which was established in 1878) but it certainly was in need of a refresh. New York firm Architecture Research Office (ARO) has given the building a complete revamp – keeping the bones of the building intact while adapting its interior to the modern uses of contemporary school kids.
Now, the Tate Library boasts a spacious open layout providing greater access to books, information and technology, and enabling multiple methods of teaching and learning.
By placing all of the offices, glazed meeting rooms and support spaces around the perimeter, ARO freed up the central space for book stacks, group work areas and carrels for individual study. Effectively, this means that in the core areas where people study and learn, whether alone or in collaboration, ample daylight and landscape views flood through the main floor’s new floor-to-ceiling windows. The mezzanine space, capped with a curved ceiling made of glass fibre–reinforced gypsum that integrate LED lights, gets a prime view of the quad outside, too. It also features a colourful assortment of acoustic wall tiles to dampen the sound of whispers, rolling book stacks and stifled giggles.
For the people who work in and use the library, the biggest design move was the allowance for more flexibility. As Cornelia “Nelie” Locher, the library department chair with a 25-year tenure at the school, told the school’s own newspaper, “We have more places you can plug your gadgets in. We can wheel the shorter bookcases away. We have more rooms with screens in them that people can use. We have also made an intentional decision to have some study rooms device-free.”
A bit about the school: The Ethical Culture Fieldston School has two campuses: one in Manhattan and one in the Riverdale district of the Bronx. It was first established as a free kindergarten for the children of the poor and working class but is today an elite preK-12 school where annual tuition runs as high as $US50K (though a fifth of the student body receives financial aid). Its alumni include New York Times reporter Jill Abramson, legendary photographer Diane Arbus, film director Sofia Coppola, AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, and urban planning icon Robert Moses.
The school came out of the Ethical Culture movement, established by Felix Adler, and retains that progressive ethos, with a dedication to “diversity of ancestry, family, identity, culture and belief.” Recently, it’s received attention for its Conversations About Race program, which is mandatory for all fourth and fifth graders. As the school states, “We expect members of our community to engage in open dialogue about living and learning in a diverse environment inside and outside the classroom. We see this work with its creative tensions as a catalyst for individual and collective growth. On a daily basis, we are committed to making this vision of a democratic, pluralistic and progressive school a reality.”