Letter: Repurposing Original Library ‘The Wrong Tack’ in Rebuilding Project


Dear Editor,

I urge town to support $10 million of town funding for the new New Canaan Library construction. I initially opposed a new library building, but over the last handful of years I’ve changed my mind. 

I’ve experienced the library building’s shortcomings as a patron, volunteer, and most recently, employee. A hollowed-out façade now fronts a mixed bag of inadequate spaces and failing infrastructure. Leaks on every level, strange microclimates borne of energy inefficiency, insufficient program and work space, and on. However well-intentioned the current structure’s previous additions and renovations, they fall short of providing what this essential town hub needs and deserves.

Further, given the design, budget, and operational constraints of building around what little is left, I fear the compromised result would similarly fall short. The library is too visible and essential for us to settle. Let’s build it right to take us through the next 100 years.

Part of building it right is finding the right architect. Award-winning Centerbrook architects have designed a building inspired by New Canaan’s Midcentury Modern legacy. This is not about a “look.” The Harvard Five, led by architect and designer Marcel Breuer, advanced an ideological shift in architecture that made function as important as form. From the selection of materials to the distribution of space, these structures sought to accommodate how most of us really live.

Likewise, there are meaning and method to Centerbrook’s design. At first glance, we see the strong Midcentury influence for which New Canaan is well known. Centerbrook’s design also echoes New England’s origins through its stone exterior and, significantly, the incorporation of a town green—then as now, a lively and multipurpose shared public space. Inside, Centerbrook’s design reconciles the personal and public function of the library by drawing on the Midcentury genius for transitioning between openness and enclosure, and by connecting the interior with nature. 

This design was not conceived in a vacuum. It emerged from voluminous research, including a site study. Though I, too, support historic preservation, I’m puzzled at the suggestion that the 20 ft. x 65 ft. remnant of the 1913 structure remain in situ, as though it bears no relationship or consequence to Centerbrook’s proposed design. I sympathize with the desire to somehow repurpose the remains but think this is the wrong tack, and also urge that town not condition support for the new building on the disposition of the old.  

The Midcentury ethos, influenced by Bauhaus’s democratization of building and design, gibes well with the colonial green, a shared public space where townspeople come together. This resonates in terms of libraries receiving and serving the public. Centerbrook’s design pays homage to that history by melding the best from the Midcentury tradition with what’s true for us today. 

This new library, a center for learning, is truly a building fit for building community. What better beacon than a timeless work of architecture, whose careful design and authenticity honor place without pastiche? It looks back as it looks forward, is freshly situated in the reality of our present, and will meet the myriad needs of the community it serves for years to come. 


Micaela Porta

3 thoughts on “Letter: Repurposing Original Library ‘The Wrong Tack’ in Rebuilding Project

  1. Totally agree with the need for a new library Miki!

    However, the beautiful little 1913 building still has so much to add! Unlike the 1970s addition, the 1913 building is intact, with a dry, solid foundation, according to a few different architects.

    Come hear plans for the library tomorrow night Wednesday Feb 26, 7pm!

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