Michael K Chen Transforms Bronx Choir Loft Into Library for Underprivileged Children

The new children’s library at Concourse House, a women’s shelter in the Bronx, New York, occupies the mezzanine of a 1930s former chapel. Photography by Alan Tansey.

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 custom white-oak bookcase, Schoolhouse Electric pendant fixtures, and Proba rug, all donated. Photography by Alan Tansey.

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.

An exploded axonometric of the plan by Michael K Chen Architecture, which designed the project pro bono. Photography by Alan Tansey. Courtesy of Michael K Chen Architecture.

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.

> See more from the February 2020 issue of Interior Design

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