John Jermain Memorial Library Presents New Designs for Modern Addition

Posted on 16 April 2010

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The plan for a modern expansion of the historic John Jermain Memorial Library has received a fairly favorable review from the village’s architectural review board – the committee charged with protecting the historic character of Sag Harbor.

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On Thursday, April 8, the library’s architect Richard Munday informally presented the village ARB with initial plans to expand the 7,084 square-foot building with a 7,725 square foot, three-story expansion made of glass, masonry and stainless steel beams.

Munday said the design was meant to showcase what libraries meant to patrons in 1910, evidenced in the original building’s architecture, as well as how patrons use the libraries today – highlighted in the modern, open addition.

“They were repositories and expressions of what was thought to be the very best of what the human mind can conceive and your library very much exemplifies that idea,” said Munday. “It is a building that when you enter, you enter another world and you leave behind the village. You are immersed in this body of knowledge.”

Unlike the historic JJML building, where patrons are enveloped by the building once they pass through its entryway, the addition, Munday said, is meant to highlight the change in how libraries are viewed — not just as places where an education by the great thinkers can be obtained, but also as spaces where discovery of new knowledge is fostered and where one can reflect, from a visual perspective, on their community.

“Our thinking is that this library, this addition, should be different in its character, different in its expression,” he said, noting the Secretary of the Interior mandates that expansions of historic buildings should purposefully not mimic the original structure. Munday said the hope is that patrons enter JJML, still experiencing the historic library Sag Harbor has embraced for a century, and then move into the expansion and feel as if they are in a completely different kind of space.

“A library that doesn’t enclose, but acts like a podium looking out on the place we have come from,” Munday said, noting patrons will even be able to gaze at the historic library structure from the floor-to-ceiling glass panes that dominate the front of the new library – a design feature ARB chairman Cee Scott Brown called “compelling.”

The addition, which Munday described as “Chevron shaped,” wraps around the back of JJML with two wings visible from Main Street. While the portions of the addition facing Main Street are primarily glass and stainless steel, the majority of the rear is clad in stone, in an effort to minimize the impact the building will have on neighbors.

On the Jefferson Street side of the expansion, where people now enter the library’s first floor, outdoor seating and landscaping is planned in a pavilion-like, stone setting. JJML director Catherine Creedon said she enjoys the fact that the new design requires patrons to use the same two library entrances they use today, albeit upgraded.

“The new library addition really acts in the shadow of the old building,” noted Munday, adding it was designed to be a “softer presence and a more informal presence” than the original library building.

The renovation and expansion also aims for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status, said Munday.

Creedon explained the first floor would contain children services, as it allows for easy access off Jefferson Street.

“For all the flaws this building has, it has great acoustics,” added Creedon, noting the children’s services on the first floor will protect the rest of the library from overhearing story time or the children’s librarian engaging in another round of the Hokey Pokey.

The ground floor also has a program room and a teen collection.

The second story will be fully restored, and patrons will find the adult collections on this floor, along with a main circulation desk, a periodical reading room, a reference desk, multimedia areas, gallery space, and offices for the staff and Creedon herself.

The third floor will be fully restored, furniture included, to its original 1910 layout, including a working fireplace, and is viewed as a contemplative reading and study space for the community. It will also boast a climate-controlled archive, Creedon’s dream since becoming director at JJML.

“My first reaction is there is too much glass,” said ARB member Bethany Deyermond.

Both Brown and board member Michael Mensch agreed the kind of stone used in the expansion would be crucial to its architectural success. Munday said his firm is looking at different stones with red, brown and grey highlights, but has yet to settle on one yet.

“Conceptually, I like it very much,” said Mensch. “I think the contrast is well conceived between the two.”

“I have to say, myself, I am very excited about the addition and I think it is very sensitive and respectful to the original building,” said Brown. “It’s very exciting as a new piece of history of the village.”

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9 Responses to “John Jermain Memorial Library Presents New Designs for Modern Addition”

  1. dorothy sherry says:

    This addition looks great…. the stone back end is good and should give the neighbors relief …the design is somewhat like the first trial to enlarge the library back some 20 or more years ago….the architect then based his design somewhat like the U of Virgina whose main building is like Sag Harbor’s….where does the elevator come into play.. I hope near the door to new addition…now let us hope that Sag Harbor village will ok this and get on with this much needed addition..Mrs. Russell Sage would like it for sure … as she was a great and good lady to leave such a historic building to Sag Harbor. I love the picture of her in the library with her pet bird on her shoulder…too bad that the lady had to leave town because of builders on the school didnt follow her wishes as to materials that were to go into it….. but such is the way that greed sometimes comes into the picture…it took 20 years but it will be worth it.

  2. Tim McGuire says:

    Without going into the detailed arguments pro and con regarding the place of modern architecture in a community based historic district, I personally think the design is unfortunately inappropriate for that reason.

  3. Mark Mulholland says:

    It is very exciting to see such a modest and beautifully conceived design proposed for the addition to our Library!
    It seems to know it’s place as secondary to the current building and seems as though it is designed to be in the background rather than compete for center stage. What a welcome addition to our village this will be. I can’t wait to hang out in that beautiful space.
    Hats off to the architects for getting it just right!

  4. Daniel De Simone says:

    The mix of old and new is exactly what was discussed so many months ago. I am pleased that you keep the design as it was originally presented and that the architects didn’t stray off base in the latest renderings. Nice work.

  5. Mac Griswold says:

    The greatest charm of our village architecture is its mix: different styles, periods,and types of buildings, all set at a variety of angles to each other. Our unique web of streets that converge on the Long Wharf gives us vistas of backyards and side yards that no other East End townscape enjoys. How the proposed addition wraps around the existing building seems to me to be perfectly Sag Harbor in just this way.

    Many of Sag Harbor’s buildings have a handsome, purpose-built look, as trim as the craft that lie in our harbor. Like the spinnaker of a sailboat, the addition seems designed to catch the wind of the future and carry the library forward. Congratulations to the architects for understanding the heart of our place so well.

  6. Rob Calvert says:

    Any addition to a pivotal structure needs to be well conceived and sensitively handled; in these regards, JJML’s is exceptional. But arguments for exclusive adherence to period architecture ignore the organic nature of communities, of an institution’s need to evolve, and of how culturally vibrant places remain so.

  7. Joe Hajic says:

    The two questions are 1) is this modern design appropriate in Sag Harbor, so close to Main Street? I would say NO, there is no reason to violate the character of the town unless you are building an iconic building (like for example the Guggenheim in Bilbao) which this clearly is not; and 2) As far as modern buildings go, is this an attractive design? NO, this is not even an attractive looking modern building but a boring glass box with poor massing. Note the flimsy roof line on both levels which looks ok in a rendering but almost never looks good once it is built.
    The building calls attention to itself but it really should not, given its size, budget and location.

  8. Diane Hewett says:

    I have to agree with Mr. Hajic above. I’m just not gettin’ it! This building’s design is like peanut butter and …uh, relish! It just doesn’t go together. And if that is the intention, I’m afraid I don’t quite get that rationale either. I also worry about the environmental efficiency of all that glass and a flat roof. Wouldn’t it be nice if the design really would emulate a spinnaker of a sailboat? But I just don’t see it. Nothing fits here in my book… No pun intended! Check out this architect’s work… although modern, at least he integrates his design and is sensitive to the environment and surroundings (check out Thanks!

  9. I am happy to see a solution that is in synch with the design our firm recommended 8 years ago which discretely placed a modern addition to the rear of the wonderful legacy left to Sag Harbor by Mrs. Russell Sage. It has been a long process. The intent of this approach preserves the civic presence of the library as a locus in the community on Main Street. It renews the interior, by both respecting the elements in the gorgeous historic structure and adding needed new functions in a rear expansion.
    I wish the library and the community success as you move ahead.
    Elisabeth Martin, AIA

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