A Digitally Inspired Veil, Intended to Save Lives, Appears at N.Y.U. Library – NYTimes.com


By DAVID W. DUNLAP

Perforated aluminum screens now enclose the balconies of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University, where three students have leapt to their deaths since 2003. The N. Y. Times
Perforated aluminum screens now enclose the balconies of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University, where three students have leapt to their deaths since 2003. The N. Y. Times

One of New York’s most spectacular architectural experiences,” Paul Goldberger, then the architecture critic of The New York Times, wrote in 1973 about the atrium of the new Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University. It was that, indeed.

It also proved to be one of the most unnerving. The thin aluminum balusters ringing the balconies of the 12-story structure seemed disquietingly insubstantial against the 150-foot-high void beyond.

When seen from above, the trompe-l’oeil floor looked like a three-dimensional fantasy landscape by M. C. Escher that almost beckoned the viewer to enter. A journey through Bobst could feel precarious even on the best day.

And there were three dreadful days. On Sept. 12, 2003, John D. Skolnik, a junior, jumped to his death in the atrium. Less than a month later, on Oct. 10, so did Stephen Bohler, a freshman.

Within weeks, the university installed eight-foot-high clear polycarbonate barriers along the balconies. Despite this measure, on Nov. 3, 2009, Andrew E. Williamson-Noble, a junior, also jumped to his death there.

One step the university took in response to these and other student deaths was to commission Joel Sanders Architect to reimagine the troublesome space in Bobst. Instead of trying to create an inconspicuous barrier, Mr. Sanders and his colleagues have designed randomly perforated aluminum screens that completely enclose the balconies around the perimeter of the atrium and the open staircase connecting them, transforming the space in consequence.

University officials expect the renovation to be finished next month. They would not disclose the cost.

vía A Digitally Inspired Veil, Intended to Save Lives, Appears at N.Y.U. Library – NYTimes.com.