The Richard Ettinghausen Library sits just inside the main entry of the Hagop Kevorkian Building at New York University, which is the center of NYU’s Middle Eastern Studies Program. The library is remarkable for the way it incorporates historical architectural elements from the 1797 Quwwatli Family residence in Damascus, including elaborately patterned stone floors, a stone fountain and archway, and tiled friezes. These elegant details are further dramatized by their context, a modernist building designed by Philip Johnson and opened in 1973.
When Wayne Turett was asked to reinvigorate and renovate the library in the late 1990’s, his first challenge was to separate the library acoustically and thermally from the entry. But the larger challenge was to do so with due deference to Philip Johnson’s design, and without compromising the historic components. His team’s solution included a glass airlock, tucked into the deep bays of the modernist façade. TCA then created a new foyer, separated from the library by a new 30-ft high glass assembly. High-performance structural glass fins and spider connections were engineered to support the partition within the historic Quwwatli Family arch. TCA carefully detailed the wall so as to minimally impact the artisanal surfaces.
TCA’s next major challenges were to clean and restore the decorative elements; modify and discreetly reroute the HVAC systems; devise lighting which could reinforce the grandeur and historic importance of the space and its details; and provide new control systems for all environmental functions. Finally, Turett provided designs for a custom desk, study table and millwork to replace the steel shelves and temporary desks.
TCA’s restoration and reconstruction provided the acoustical and environmental separation the client needed, as well as a bright and newly functional research and meeting space. Turett gave the wonderful Quwwatli Family artifacts the pride of place they deserved, with an unexpected bonus: the new glass structures proved to be exciting architectural elements in their own right