Ordinarily, a tucked-away mezzanine library would be an appealing spot for kids to read and play. But the one at Concourse House, a Bronx, New York, shelter serving women and their age 9 or younger children transitioning out of homelessness, was not so. Occupying what had been the choir loft of a former chapel, the 250-square-foot area’s original mahogany railing was not enough of a barrier from the double-height multipurpose space below. That’s where Michael K Chen Architecture enters the story. “We aimed to create a warm, homey place,” Michael K Chen explains. And he did it pro bono, to boot.
The main character of the scheme is Chen’s rounded shelving unit that spans the railing. Functionally, it acts as a protective partition and storage for 1,200 children’s books. Aesthetically, its slatted back echoes the lines of the barrel-vaulted ceiling, and allows the passage of light, both from the downstairs windows up and from the unit’s integral LEDs down, like a beacon. Pendant fixtures, ottomans, and built-in Corian tables continue the rounded theme, and a large custom rug provides a cheerful palette.
The project was made possible by donations from long-term supporters Julie Yamin and her daughter Kate as well as the A&D community. Chen also organized a Paddle 8 auction of items by the likes of Bec Brittain, Mary Wallis, and David Weeks, raising $21,000 for the library and its literacy programs.