As reported by David W Dunlap for the NYTimes, the safety-restoration applied to Philip Johnson and Richard Foster’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on the NYU campus near Washington Square is close to completion. While the library, which was constructed in the early 1970s, remains intact, the tremendous atrium space – a soaring 150 ft void – is proving to be more of a safety hazard than the magnificent architectural experience the architects intended. Since 2003, the library has been marred by claiming the lives of three students who leaped to their deaths (even after the university installed 8ft polycarbonate barriers). Charged with the task of eliminating the possibility for such a future occurrence, Joel Sanders Architect responded with a perforated alumium screen that completely walls off the atrium from the library’s levels. More after the break.
Conceptualized as a random pixel design to compliment the building’s minimalistic aesthetic, the matte bronze 20-ft tall panels eliminate the vast panoramic views across the library and instead compartmentalize views into “scattered fragments“. The screen, in no way an “inconspicuous barrier”, completely alters the sense of space within the library. Dunlap explained, “They can — in the right light — look as gauzy as theatrical scrims.”
Yet, nothing can take from the initial effect of walking into Bobst at the ground level, ““You really don’t lose the visual qualities of the original atrium. This is almost like a beautiful piece of lace that’s been stretched taut against the balcony slabs,” explained Andrew T. Repoli, a director of construction management at NYU.
The new intervention adheres to NYU requests of transparency and permeability, and, according to spokesman John Beckman, the panels “Present an opportunity to enhance the quality, character and identity of this important NYU institution.”
Working with SHoP Construction Services, the 280+ panels were digitally fabricated from 39 different patterns modeled in Catia.
Currently, the renovation is still underway, but as NYU students return for the semester in a few weeks, the library will be sure to play host to an entirety of critics. It will be interesting to see the opinions unfold, especially since the screens are purely intended to save lives. Based upon such a sensitive issue, will the screens still warrant the same kind of architectural criticism? What do you think of the new screens? Let us know in the comments below.