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Golden metal screens create stunning architectural experience

Apr 22, 2014

Golden metal screens create stunning architectural experience

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York City
Architect: Joel Sanders Architect
Contractor: M.G. McGrath Inc.

The 20-ft.-tall perforated metal enclosures reflect a soft golden light. Photo: Mal Booth
The 20-ft.-tall perforated metal enclosures reflect a soft golden light. Photo: Mal Booth
When New York University’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library opened its doors in 1973, The New York Times called its soaring interior atrium “one of New York’s most spectacular architectural experiences.”
The screens complement the original Philip Johnson design. Photo: Mal Booth
The screens complement the original Philip Johnson design. Photo: Mal Booth


Recently, SMACNA contractor M.G. McGrath Inc. of Maplewood, Minn. helped NYU enhance the 150-foot-high library atrium with a spectacular veil of golden metal screens that line the towering hall.

The screens were custom designed to retain light, air, and views of the five-story atrium. The design of the screens melds architectural beauty and safety, while complementing the original Philip Johnson and Richard Foster design.

In addition to M.G. McGrath being named to Glass Magazine’s Top Metal Companies List of 2013, the library screen project was named to Glass Magazine’s 2013 Notable Project List.

The screens retain light, air, and views of the atrium. Photo: Mal Booth
The screens retain light, air, and views of the atrium. Photo: Mal Booth
Fabricated and installed by M.G. McGrath, the 20-foot-tall perforated aluminum metal enclosures, designed by Joel Sanders Architect, reflect a soft golden light while allowing light to filter in. Resembling rectangular digital pixels, the slender tines on each screen are only four-inches apart.

“It’s like a beautiful piece of lace that’s been stretched taut against the balcony slabs,” said Andrew Repoili, NYU’s director of construction management in a Daily Mail online article about the project.
The pattern resembles digital pixels. Photo: Mal Booth
The pattern resembles digital pixels. Photo: Mal Booth


M.G. McGrath fabricated and installed the ¼-inch thick perforated aluminum screens. With five patterns that repeat throughout each elevation, the tile screens were installed on a custom aluminum tube/mullion attached to the floor below the carpet. The screens were fastened on a floating clip concealed in the plaster soffit so the floors could move and deflect under live loads, noted Mike P. McGrath, president of M.G. McGrath. The screens were cut with a water jet using “direct to fabrication” from the CATIA (Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application) model.

The atrium soars 150 feet. Photo: Matteo Vinati The atrium soars 150 feet. Photo: Matteo Vinati
The atrium soars 150 feet. Photo: Matteo Vinati Close-up of screen
The east and west elevations are mirror images of each other and are more open than the south elevation, which has the smallest percentage of openings. The north elevation is the most open.

The work was done on an extremely tight schedule (June 1 to August 31) and was performed at night while the library was closed.

A big challenge was getting the materials up to the floors that were 135 feet high. M.G. McGrath set up three hoists to move the materials to the various floors. Everything was staged in the center of the atrium space.

The design itself is complementary to the openness of the library and is even sound enough structurally for someone to climb without falling into the atrium or damaging the panels, Mr. McGrath noted. Its primary function is safety. All the attachments were done using tamper-proof fasteners.

The new aluminum screens solve these practical safety issues while enhancing the quality and character of the library, said university spokesman John Beckman.

The aluminum fit well with the atrium's prevailing aesthetics and was chosen over other designs including glass and steel cable structures.

The screens “match the color and materials Johnson used in the railings while at the same time updating and refreshing the atrium by incorporating contemporary 21st century digital designs,” said Mr. Beckman.

The 12-story Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on the New York University campus is the flagship of a nine-library, 5.1 million-volume system. The Bobst Library houses more than 3.7 million volumes and circulates nearly one million books annually. It is visited by more than 7,400 users each day, has 28 miles of open stacks shelving, and offers 2,200 seats for student study.