04 Sep 2012

Joel Sanders Architect designs elegant safety net for NYU’s Bobst Library

After several students at NYU jumped to their deaths in the atrium of the Bobst Library, a space designed by Philip Johnson in the late 1970s, the University took swift action to address the building’s safety concerns.

It first installed eight-foot high Plexiglas walls along the atrium’s interior balconies as an interim solution. But when that system failed to prevent the suicide of yet another student in 2009, the University went back to the drawing board in search of a permanent solution. That solution came in the form of an elegant, lace-like screen designed by Joel Sanders Architect, which is scheduled for completion this week.

Sanders' intervention not only appears to address the safety concern for good, what with its twenty-foot high walls that would be challenging to surmount, it is also architecturally sensitive to the existing atrium, a space that the New York architecture critic Paul Goldberger calls 'one of New York’s most spectacular architectural experiences'.

“The design is guided by the dual objective of creating an attractive security membrane that is secure yet visually porous while at the same time compatible with the existing atrium designed by Johnson in 1968”, said NYU Spokesperson John Beckman. The aluminum screens have been custom fabricated to retain light, air and views of the atrium with grillwork inspired by other Johnson-designed atrium environments.

“We believe the design does in fact reconcile the opposing demands for security and porosity. On the one hand, the new interior lining of the atrium possesses sufficient surface area to form an effective security barrier. On the other hand, it is a porous skin that neither requires overhauling of the existing HVAC and structural systems, nor altering of the building’s occupancy use or fire and life safety infrastructure”, said Beckman.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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