Text, drawings and photos by Studio Esinam and Rory Gardiner.
The Elmer Holmes Bobst Library is located at the southeast corner of Washington Square Park on the New York University campus in Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan. The library was designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster. The two had previously collaborated on several prestigious projects including the New York State Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, Queens, and the New York State Theater (now called David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center. Their design was picked over another proposal of 22 story modernist building. The project started in the mid 1960s and was made possible by a donation from Elmer Holmes Bobst, who had made his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry.
At this time the university’s collection of books was spread over 30 locations. Bobst library was to become the new nave of NYU’s library system and to become a symbol of the school. The library opened in fall of 1973. It was considered a success in many ways praised not only for its extraordinary architecture but also for its functionality.
Still today Bobst is one of the largest academic libraries in the U.S. It houses over 4 million volumes, provides more than 2500 seats for student study and is visited by about 10 000 users a day. The 12 floors make up a total floor area of 39.500 m2.
The most powerful architectural features of Bobst are its 30 by 30 m atrium stretching the full height of the building, its scale, and its reddish stone façade. The Longmeadow Redstone is a sandstone that was quarried in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts in the late 1800s and early 1900s and again during a brief renaissance between 1965 and 1971. The geometric marble floor was inspired by the floor of Palladio’s Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.
The barcode inspired, bronze colored aluminum veil was added as suicide prevention in 2012 and was designed by Joel Sanders Architects, following three suicides (by jumping from the balcony) in 2003 and 2009. Today the veil dominates the building’s interior. The laser-cut aluminum panels and vertical supports were painted to match the existing bronze colored railings.