For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development

Free Library of Philadelphia Opening 41,000 Square Feet of New Space

After extensive modernization and renovation, the library opens new public spaces for business, teen, and community engagement

This April, the Free Library of Philadelphia will open reimagined spaces in the Parkway Central Library, following years of planning and renovation. The massive undertaking began with moving more than 800,000 books and other materials from closed stacks to off-site storage before deconstructing and removing six levels of historic stacks. Three bold, new public spaces have been created: The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement, the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC), and the Marie and Joseph Field Teen Center.

The creative repurposing, conceived by the Free Library and designed by acclaimed firm Safdie Architects, of 41,000 square feet of the Beaux-Arts building is the largest renovation since Parkway Central was completed in 1927 and will fundamentally change the way the public interacts with the space.

Before the Parkway Central renovations began in 2006, only 35 percent of the building was open to the public. This phase of the renovation increases public space to 68 percent.

The Reimagined Parkway Central Library seamlessly blends the historic character of the original architecture with the needs and realities of 21st-century library service. With the reuse of and inspiration drawn from original elements—such as recovered marble and terrazzo flooring—complemented by modern furniture carefully selected by Moshe Safdie and his team from A. Pomerantz & Co. and Spectrum Industries, alongside lighting by Lam Partners, the Beaux-Arts gem prepares to step dramatically into its second century of use.

“For nearly a century, Parkway Central Library has been an iconic landmark in Philadelphia, and this renovation has ensured that it remains a cornerstone of literacy, culture, and education for years to come,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. “We wanted to give this space back to the people we serve, for members of the community to gather, to discuss, and to learn.”

The $35.8 million renovation is funded with support from the William Penn Foundation, the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, as well as generous donations from individuals.

The Free Library will celebrate the opening of the new spaces with a series of festivities culminating in a grand opening for the public on April 12. Additionally, the opening will unveil a new permanent public artwork by Philadelphia-based artist Colette Fu, created exclusively for the Free Library, commissioned by the City of Philadelphia’s Percent for Art Program, which sits within Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Fu’s series of eight striking tunnel books—three-dimensional acrylic works inspired by traditional paper tunnel books—pay homage to the six stories of historic stacks that were dismantled in order open up Parkway Central’s newest public spaces.

The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement

The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement is designed to allow open-ended, informal, and spontaneous use by visitors. The space will be further activated by public programs planned and presented by members of the community and augmented by programs offered by the innovative professional staff of the Free Library’s Division of Cultural and Civic Engagement. The 7,200-square-foot Heim Center—which occupies a sweeping balcony overlooking the new BRIC—will be a dynamic, flexible community space where visitors can define their own experience.

Business Resource and Innovation Center

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Business Resource and Innovation Center houses all of the Library’s business, workforce development, patent, and nonprofit resources under one commanding umbrella. Its 8,200 square feet of newly designed space in the Reimagined Parkway Central Library has been designed to help community leaders and small business owners start, grow, and improve their organizations, to support job seekers launching the next phase of their careers, and to guide inventors.  With an open floor plan and plenty of seating for counseling and collaboration, the BRIC also features conference and breakout rooms for brainstorming, meetings, and more.

The new home for the BRIC brings to the public resources to assist in building résumés, attracting investors, obtaining patents, and more. PECO and Comcast NBCUniversal are lead sponsors of innovative workforce development programs and digital literacy classes in the new spaces.

Marie and Joseph Field Teen Center       

The Reimagined Parkway Central Library also contains a haven for teenagers and teenagers only. The Marie and Joseph Field Teen Center is a 4,000-square-foot open-plan lounge area with large, flat-screen monitors and movable furniture. It is the first-ever space designed exclusively for teens in Parkway Central.

Teens will be able to utilize the space for creative endeavors and to interact with books, media, and each other.

William B. Dietrich Grand Staircase

The William B. Dietrich Grand Staircase, which connects Parkway Central’s historic lobby with the modern spaces in the library, features parallel stairways. Seamlessly integrated with the original, iconic staircase, these new stairways were constructed using 14,000 square feet of pink marble salvaged from the renovation.


The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and The Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 28,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi, including neighborhood Hotspots; and rich special collections, including those at Parkway Central Library and at The Rosenbach. With more than 5 million in-person visits and 5 million more online annually, the Free Library and The Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.


Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850