There are not many places in this world where one can browse both the evolution of the feminist punk youth movement Riot Grrl in the 1990s and the lives of North American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War – but the Bobst Library Special Collections is such a place.
Our design for the two floors dedicated to these collections reflected their unique – and often radical – nature, the building’s location in downtown New York City and the strong architectural character of Bobst Library itself.
The design respects the symmetry of Bobst Library and combines a loft aesthetic with a New York-centric downtown vibe. Uniquely conceived spaces include a reading room, gallery space, a learning space and a light-filled entrance vestibule.
The space is well described in the Architectural Record piece: “Scholars entering the second floor’s main vestibule from the elevator bank, on the south side of the atrium now find luminous exhibition galleries, wood-lined locker rooms, and a spacious reading room. Offices for the staff are located on the west side of the atrium, while teaching rooms are on the east. On the north, overlooking Washington Square, is an existing double-height reading room, which CannonDesign is in the midst of converting to a flexible space that can also accommodate lectures.
The third floor is reserved for storage, and contains high-density, compact conventional fixed shelving for the collections most in demand (the majority of material is kept off campus). During the pandemic, while the university is open to in-person teaching, the NYU Special Collections Library offers limited on-site services for faculty, staff, and students by appointment only. The spaces already were geared to low occupancy and the ventilation systems had precise climate control and filtering measures in place.”
The full piece is available online and in Architectural Record’s November issue. Here is another excerpt:
The striking highlight of this renovation is the new reading room along the south wall of the library. Because the ceilings were low (less than 10 feet high), the design team suspended gently concaved acoustical vaults with downlights over the oak study tables. The allusion to the canopied ceilings that Sir John Soane created for his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London, in the early 19th century, is intentional.
John Reed, CannonDesign’s Design Principal in New York City and for the project, is not only an admirer of Soane’s architecture, but he knew of Johnson’s affinity for Soane. While many visitors may be unacquainted with the references, they still offer a richness of meaning to the architectural and art communities. And they hint at the design process: as Reed puts it, “To do spaces in a well-known architect’s building, you have to understand what that architect stood for.” Or as Johnson often said, “You cannot not know history.”