University officials say the library screen renovation project is expected to be completed by Labor Day.

University officials say the library screen renovation project is expected to be completed by Labor Day.

Credit: ©NYU Photo Bureau: Asselin

The Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University comes with both an architectural pedigree and a dark history. The 12-story building was designed by Philip Johnson and Richard T. Foster in the ‘60s and was called “one of New York’s most spectacular architectural experiences” by critic Paul Goldberger, then of The New York Times. In a more recent take on the library, a reporter for The New York Times writes that “A journey through Bobst could feel precarious even on the best day.” Staircases stretch across the sides of the 150-foot-high open atrium, creating an expansive void in the middle of the building. The openness lends to the building’s beauty, but it soon proved to be a dark feature.  In 2003, two students jumped to their deaths, followed by a third in in 2009. 

In response to these incidents, the university has just installed a floor-to-ceiling perforated screen around the atrium, designed by Joel Sanders Architect. In the right light, the panels glitter and pick up the building’s gold accents. They had to be permeable enough to let in daylight and to permit ventilation, especially in emergencies. So what to call these lace-like installations? The same thing other cities might call their latest projects, meant to deter such tragedies, The Atlantic Cities’ Nate Berg says. “You can surely understand the reasons officials are not referring to the new fencing as a suicide barrier,” he says. “But that's what it is.”