Library Planning Research,  work in progress

One Thousand Libraries and Still Counting

At the age of eight, Aaron Cohen was discovered! He was in the local branch of the New York Public Library near the Educational Alliance – a famous settlement house on the Lower East Side of New York City — where he showed his sketches to a teacher and librarian. They showed them to the Director of the Educational Alliance, who immediately invited Aaron to attend a class in the Adult Drawing Studio. The Director gave Aaron advice: “Keep going to the library and read about famous artists. Then, in your sketch book, draw what you see.”

Drawing has helped Aaron throughout his life. It has helped him, as an architect, to convey ideas to his clients. It has helped him relax: after hours; on weekends; on vacation; wherever he went, whether on business or holiday.

Recently, Aaron’s approach to drawing is a take-off on one of his favorite artists, Surat. He uses dots to create images and then, when necessary, fill in the voids. Because it is difficult to take colored inks on to airplanes, he now sketch solely in black and white. When he gets home, he may color portions of a drawing – or, he may leave it alone.

In Aaron’s early years as an architect, he worked for several architects, including a seven year stint for Edward Durell Stone.

In his next iteration, he became a campus planner at CCNY. Finally, in his early thirties, he opened an office in New York and had commissions for a slew of houses on Fire Island and in the Hamptons and in Oyster Bay.

Aaron designed a number of innovative retail shops and boutiques along New York’s Madison Avenue when Madison Avenue was “hot, hot, hot”. One of his beach house clients was a professor at a major university in its school of library science. He introduced Aaron and his wife Elaine to the problems that libraries were having at the time. Aaron was fascinated, and this fascination caused the creation of a forty-year long career planning and designing libraries.

Aaron began this career with the help of his wife, Elaine, who, today, is President of the firm. Twenty-five years ago, his colleague, Natasha Palevski, joined our office as a chief planner and designer. Ten years ago, Aaron’s son, Alex, joined the library consulting firm. Today, he functions as a major library consultant. Seven years ago, Carol Ninkovich, became our editor and office manager.

Over the past forty years, Aaron has worked on more than one thousand libraries. He has worked on just about every type of library that there is: academic, public, medical, law, archival, museum, theological, governmental, etc. He has worked on libraries in just about every major city in the U.S. and also on libraries in small and medium sized communities, some of which are in out of the way places. Along the way, the Cohen’s coined the term “Information Commons” which is used by computing facilities in and out of libraries almost everywhere.

Libraries have taken the Cohen’s all over the world: Alexandria, Egypt; Athens, Greece; Bermuda; Singapore; Brussels, Belgium; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Paris, France; Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. And everywhere Aaron went, he brought a sketch book and a pen and ink.

Aaron is planning to do an exhibition in San Francisco in 2010-11 to mark his 75th Birthday. The exhibition will be a celebration. In his lifetime, he literally helped developed over 1,000 libraries. This enabled him to create a myriad of sketch books (more than 5,000 drawings). This is exhibition will be a celebration of Aaron’s sketch books and drawings – libraries and buildings, people and images.