There’s no question that cultivating a passion for reading in children is beneficial to their future. It develops language and communication skills, encourages creative and imaginative thinking and gives them the opportunity to go on adventures and discover new worlds. But for many kids, finding a quiet spot to spend time getting lost in the pages of a book isn’t that easy. Michael K. Chen Architecture’s recently completed children’s library at the Concourse House is a space to do just that.
Since its inception in 1991, the Concourse House in Bronx, New York, has been providing safe, temporary housing and social programming for women and children transitioning out of homelessness, and the house now has a designated corner devoted to books and reading.
The library project was initiated and primarily supported by Julie and Kate Yamin, with Michael Chen, founder and principal of New York-based MKCA, coming on pro bono to design the library, which is tucked under the barrel-vaulted ceiling on the underused mezzanine level of the 1930s building.
“The barrel vault was such a strong presence in the space, we were interested in playing off that form,” say Chen of the custom bookcase that defines the room. With rounded edges, the shelving unit fits perfectly within the arched balcony (which originally housed the organ for the chapel); backed with a screen of wooden dowels it doubles as a light-filtering barrier to the double-height main space below. The oval shape of the bookcase was conceived to introduce a soft “almost cuddly” element into what was previously a dark, cave-like space, according to Chen.
Made from white oak, the bookcase anchors the 220-square-foot library and, ringed with continuous strips of LEDs, adds illumination that is coupled with overhead globe pendants. Bringing more function, two Corian tables are integrated into the walls and a collection of upholstered pouffes offer comfortable seating (the pouffes can be tucked away into additional built-in shelving when not in use).
A custom-designed rug by Alex Proba of Studio Proba (also contributed pro bono) injects a healthy dose of vibrant colour and is another soft surface for little ones to sit one while reading or listening to a story. “The idea here was for the library to have a decidedly residential feel, and for it to feel special and distinct from the other program spaces at Concord House,” say Chen.
With all elements partially or entirely donated, the library is also an offering of goodwill, one that hopes to “encourage imagination, adventure and learning” to the kids that use it.