March 7, 2019

The Center for Fiction by BKSK Architects Brings Books and Sustainability to Brooklyn

One more Manhattanite has migrated to Brooklyn. The Center for Fiction started out as the Mercantile Library in 1821 and moved locations throughout Manhattan over the years. In 2008, it was rebranded, and more than 10 years later, the Center has a permanent home in a new downtown Brooklyn building by BKSK Architects with sustainability in mind.

The three-level, 17,500-square-foot space encompasses a 140-seat auditorium, bookstore, café/bar, classrooms, library, children’s spaces, writers’ studio, reading rooms, and garden terraces across three floors. Equal parts library, bookstore, coworking space, and education center, the Center is the only organization in the country that is solely dedicated to writers and readers of fiction.

The writers’ studio features locally-made custom wool felt panels that are perforated with the Center’s logo, an open book. Photography by Michelle Rose.

BKSK designer Julie Nelson focused on sustainability, as this is a major addition to the cultural epicenter of downtown Brooklyn. The firm has done many projects in the past that have garnered Silver, Gold, and even Platinum LEED ratings, including the Washington Square Park House, also in New York City.

“For all of our projects,” Nelson says, “we look to find ways that sustainable design can not only improve project performance in areas of energy efficiency and water conservation but will also support and express the institutional mission of our client.”

Ladders aid in the retrieval of books on the upper shelves. Photography by Michelle Rose.

As they worked with the Center’s leadership, Nelson’s team used Paris’s Maison de Verre by Pierre Chareau as a design guide, both for its classical scale and industrial but warm aesthetic. They also reused pieces from the Center’s previous location in Manhattan. “The selective reuse of furniture allowed us to create a feeling of familiarity for long-time members, in a new context while saving natural resources,” Nelson says.

While Nelson references the Center’s past in Manhattan, she also found it important to incorporate local craft. Lite Brite Neon Studio in Gowanus contributed the bookstore’s neon sign, Dumbo-based Mark Jupiter provided furniture, and Hendomade of Red Hook custom-made the café tables.

A private meeting room features floor-to-ceiling windows. Photography by Michelle Rose.

“We see architecture and interior design as an act of collaboration,” Nelson says. “Although reading and writing are somewhat singular artistic endeavors, we loved the idea that the presence of craft might become a source of inspiration—a new kind of collaboration between the craftspeople who made the space and those that inhabit it.”

The Center celebrated its grand opening on February 19th. Fiction enthusiasts from all over the city came together to admire the new space.

The reading room is an exclusive space for members to read and relax. Photography by Michelle Rose.

“We hope visitors and members see the Center as a second home,” the Center’s executive director Noreen Tomassi remarked. “They can see their favorite authors, meet other devoted readers and writers, engage in conversation with each other, and feel comfortable spending hours here with a good book.”

Looking for more book-filled spaces? Check out this massive library in China and the 2018 Best of Year Winner for Library project.

Recent Projects