To Prevent Student Suicides, a Digitally-Inspired Screen Flecked with Gold

Since 2003, three students at New York University have jumped to their deaths from the atrium-facing staircases insides the university’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library.

The building remains very much as it was when first built in the early 1970s by Philip Johnson and Richard T. Foster: a gaping 150ft void from floor to ceiling, staircases and balconies crowned with eight-foot-high polycarbonate shields facing inwards (installed in 2003, after a tragic two suicides in as many months).


From high above, the geometric pattern of the marble floors looks like spikes facing upwards—or so they tell prospective students, cryptically, on tours of the building.

In 2009, another suicide. The eight-foot shields a plainly insufficient solution.

Finally, NYU has taken its next step in securing the structure, with a tasteful and really quite lovely looking gilt-colored perforated aluminum screen, commissioned by Joel Sanders Architect.


The 20-foot-tall panels, which look delicate as digital lace, completely enclose the open balconies and staircases on all sides of the atrium, a sort of protective armor—for both the building and the students themselves. Each panel weights only about 150lbs, to keep from placing any undue structural stress on the building’s cantilevered balconies.

“Three-dimensional rendering software by Catia made it possible for the panel fabricators (MG McGrath of Maplewood, Minn.) to use the computer files created by the designers to cut openings in the quarter-inch aluminum,” reports the New York Times.


The general mood in Bobst, as I remember it back when I was a student at NYU, was always one of spooked solemnity. The knowledge that these staircases and this floor were where students jumped, died—it was hard to shake. Hopefully, the addition of this new sparkling scrim will change all that, offering both the promise of safety and and a cheerful aesthetic update. [Inhabitat, CityRoom]

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.


Image via Flickr Commons, Images courtesy NYU

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