Prof. Karen Fairbanks Redesigns The Schomburg Center

February 22, 2018

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—an institution integral to Barnard’s Harlem Semester—has been newly renovated, thanks to the architecture firm led by Claire Tow Professor of Professional Practice and Department of Architecture Chair Karen Fairbanks. Her architecture firm, Marble Fairbanks, reimagined the Harlem center so that it now displays a portion of its collection to the street. Part of the New York Public Library and a National Historic Landmark, the Schomburg Center is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to materials documenting black life in America and worldwide. A ribbon-cutting ceremony marking this event took place on October 16, 2017.

Fairbanks, with strong interests in education and sustainability, has been a leader in library design across New York City. “Public libraries are undergoing transformations in the range of services they provide and are critical parts of our civic infrastructure,” Fairbank explains. “The Schomburg Center had a significant need to upgrade its archival spaces, reading rooms, galleries, gift shop, staff spaces, and its relationship to the street.”

The design team she leads developed a larger design study called Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries to support New York City’s library systems, and her firm received World-Architects' Building of the Year 2013 award for its work on the Glen Oaks Branch Library in Queens. Her newest library project, the Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center, is about to start construction and was recently honored by the New York City Public Design Commission for excellence in design. The project is funded in part by a grant the community received as settlement from the Greenpoint oil spill. Her team has also led the redesign of Hunter College’s Cooperman Library.