Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Selldorf Architects inserts a modern library stack into the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World's century-old town house.
Architects & Firms
New York, New York
Elegant limestone and brick facades conceal dramatic entry sequences, grand staircases, and rich millwork—these are the historic residences of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. One such building, at 15 East 84th Street, is now home to New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, a center for advanced research and graduate education. And while one will find all the appropriately traditional details inside, its limestone-and-brick exterior also conceals an unexpectedly modern gesture.
Built in 1899 and designed by Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen, the town house was featured in Architectural Record in 1903. The Leon Levy Foundation, which endows the Institute, acquired the 6-story town house in 2004 and engaged Selldorf Architects to renovate the building to accommodate a modern academic facility. The program called for museum-quality exhibition galleries on the first floor as well as the restoration of the grand elliptical staircase and the corresponding elliptical skylight above. Original wood paneling in the second-floor library reading and conference rooms was refinished and reinstalled, sometimes with a new configuration, to obscure new mechanical systems.
The primary programmatic requirement was a library to house the Institute’s vast collection of books. Rather than segregate the library to several compartmentalized rooms, Selldorf Architects approached the task more radically than the renovation brief originally suggested: removing parts of the fourth and fifth floors at the back of the building and inserting a freestanding steel stack structure within the resulting three-story atrium. “We sought to create an identity for the library and cohesiveness for a space that was very convincing,” principal Annabelle Selldorf, AIA, explains.
A floor-to-ceiling glass partition maintains visibility between the library and the adjoining office space; Selldorf imagines this as an “interstitial space, a moment to ponder the whole of history and to see all of the books at once.” Moreover, the structure pulls away from the existing walls to create a separation of architectural generations that is as literal as it is symbolic. In another contrast—this time to the carefully concealed building systems throughout the rest of the project—sprinkler piping and HVAC branch ducts visibly snake below the library’s perforated steel floor.
Despite the use of perforated steel plates, powder-coated to a blackened color, for floors, landings, and stair risers, the structure has an overall lightness thanks to daylight flooding windows and penetrating glass railings, as well as custom semicircular luminaires that cast a fluorescent glow on the steel members in which they’re installed. Whereas studies of the ancient world calls up the dusty, earth-toned libraries of Indiana Jones’s Barnett or Marshall colleges, the The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World suggests that crisp modernity is a fitting environment, and perhaps a welcome change, for the discipline.
Partner in charge:
Partner in charge:
Partner in charge:
Acoustical, A/V, IT and security
Vice president of Manhattan operations, project executive:
Structural steel fabricator and erector
Fabricator and erector miscellaneous steel and architectural/ornamental metal
Towne House Restorations (for cornice GRFC)
EIFS, ACM, or other
Woodwork and woodwork restoration
Interior stone and stone restoration
Paints and stains
Reception furniture, reading room tables
Xenon Architectural Lighting
Exhibition lighting, recessed track lighting
Recessed art lighting
Custom lighting design
Custom lighting manufacture