This Ultra-Green Library Offers Hands-On Environmental Learning

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Although the pandemic has temporarily stopped us from visiting new libraries in person, we can still appreciate their amazing architecture and creative amenities from afar. This fall, we’ve been geeking out over the newest branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), which is as innovative and sustainable as it is beautiful.

The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center will engage community members of all ages about science, nature, and environmental activism. The building has eco labs and rooftop gardens in addition to traditional library offerings like books, computers, and meeting rooms.

The Greenpoint neighborhood has a fraught environmental history: an oil spill in local Newton Creek is among the most devastating oil spills in United States history. In response to the disaster, ExxonMobil paid millions of dollars to New York State, much of which went to the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund—which funds projects like the groundbreaking new BPL branch.

“The hope is that the library can act as the hub of history, activism, science, and stewardship in protecting defending and remediating the environment in this extraordinary community,” Dewey Thompson, a member of the Greenpoint Library Community Advisory Committee, explained in a video from BPL.

The library’s design includes a cistern for capturing rainwater to use in the gardens and for lab experiments, windows that act as sundials, and an interactive screen that lists the library’s energy use and the energy generated by its solar panels in real time. Marble Fairbanks designed the building and are targeting a LEED Platinum certification; the landscape architecture was provided by SCAPE.

The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center’s cistern, bookstacks, and children’s area. Photos by Gregg Richards, courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library.

“Our goal was not just to make this building a model of sustainable building practices, but to have it be a teaching tool,” BPL project manager Ames O’Neill told Next City.

At more than 15,000 square feet, the library is twice as large as the branch that used to be at this location. Due to the pandemic, it’s currently operating with a grab-and-go checkout model, but staff and locals are excited to gather for gardening events, sustainability classes, and more once it’s safe to do so.

“The new Greenpoint Library models the enormous potential of public libraries in the 21st century,” Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, shared in a press release.  “In 2020, in Brooklyn and beyond, we need more libraries like this one: that make vital knowledge and beautiful design accessible to all, that empower people from all walks of life to come together and build a more sustainable, more just world.” 

Photos by Gregg Richards, courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library.

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