This library is my oasis in East Harlem. People walk into this brand-new space, and they are in awe. Children love this place, as do my teachers. It's serene and quiet, but not to the point where kids have to be silent. Here they're free to express themselves and ask questions.
When I have my meetings, I have them in the library. I want people to see. I also use the library as a career development tool. It shows these students, many who live in housing projects, that it's a big world out there. We worked with the two main architects, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, and their staff. The kids could see that there are better career options out there. You study hard now, and you can become an architect, a doctor, a lawyer. We're talking about breaking the cycle of poverty.
I'll put our library up against any library in any school. And I need to thank those architects who did this work pro bono. If they had to be paid, something else would have had to give - perhaps books, computers, or staff. These architects are using their know-how to develop libraries of tomorrow, and everyone is moving forward with the children in mind.
P.S. 101, Andrew Draper Academy
New York, New York
For younger architects, pro bono projects like the libraries sponsored by the Robin Hood Foundation can be an entree into public or institutional work. Even for experienced architects, like us, pro bono projects can be real stepping-stones.
The Robin Hood Foundation was interested in innovation, which might have been scary for another client. They allowed us to experiment with ideas and details, like the oversized sculptural lampshades that we wanted to do ever since we designed a traveling show for the Noguchi Foundation.
Personally, it's satisfying to see kids and parents enjoying something you had a hand in - making them think of reading as a joyful thing and the library as a refuge. It's something we're always thinking about: how to leave something behind that makes the world a better place. It's an opportunity to change people's lives, which is the reason why many of us got into architecture.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
New York, New York