Bobst Library Special Collections Renovation

Connecting generations through NYU’s Special Collections

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New York University
New York, New York, United States
68,000 square feet

How many places in the world can one browse both the evolution of the feminist punk youth movement Riot Grrrl in the 1990s and the lives of North American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War? Not many—but Bobst Library is one of those places. Honoring the unique and varied holdings of Special Collections at New York University’s Bobst Library, this renovation pulls together two floors of space dedicated to connecting new generations to evocative content. 

Housed in a historic building that holds a strong architectural character all its own, the updated programming and design pay respect to the 1973 design of Philip Johnson and Richard Foster, while efficiently providing librarians, students, researchers and faculty access to rare materials in such subjects as English and American literature and labor history.

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Featuring a modernist aesthetic, the second floor of Special Collections emphasizes black, linear steel framing elements combined with clear, fritted and acid-etched glass.

Located in New York City’s Washington Square, the space is designed to capture the city-centric downtown vibe with sleek lines and open spaces. Visitors are welcomed to the space through a light-filled vestibule that leads to a set of three galleries systematically arranged around the 100x100-foot central atrium. On the south side of the atrium, there are luminous exhibition galleries and spacious flexible areas.

The new design not only expands the physical space dedicated to special collections, but it also inspires a new sense of discovery. By co-locating all special collections services and providing access to materials from all three repositories in one place, researchers enjoy a more efficient and rewarding experience.

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The space features a set of wood-lined locker rooms where researchers may store their belongings and retreat for quiet conversation.
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The galleries are subdivided and feature programmable video walls and adjustable lighting systems.


  • Our special collections allow for unlimited discovery. We are delighted to be creating a new, vibrant, interactive space in which students and scholars from across the globe can conduct research, learn from one another and share intellectual passions through exhibitions, lectures, workshops, readings and other programs.

    H. Austin Booth Dean, Division of Libraries

One of the most striking elements of this renovation is the double-height reading room on the north side of the atrium overlooking Washington Square. It’s designed to provide a quiet and contemplative space to study the Special Collections vast trove of materials. The floating and curving veils above the study tables reference the scalloped exterior facade and the work of the building’s architect, Philip Johnson.

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To accommodate the building's low ceilings, the design of the reading room features gently concaved acoustical vaults with downlights over the oak study tables.
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The renovation includes rooms dedicated to research, collaborative study and private meetings.