Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The newly renovated fine arts library features artful lifted floors of bookstacks lifted off the ground floor.

November 17, 2019

Design Over People? New Fine Arts Library Critiqued for See-Through, Grated Floors

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The newly renovated Mui Ho Fine Arts Library houses over 100,000 books suspended from the ceiling. The steel grate floors between the three levels of stacks are permeable by air and light — and are see-through.

Located in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning’s Rand Hall, the $22.6 million project’s goal was to create a light-filled space that would connect students to the library’s resources and wealth of knowledge, The Sun previously reported.

However, since its opening on Aug. 5, many have criticized the library about its usability and accessibility, including for people wearing dresses or afraid of heights.

Nicole Nomura, grad, first visited the library with a friend in September. When she arrived, she instantly realized that she would be “very uncomfortable” going into the stacks — because she was wearing a dress.

The grated floor of the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library.

(Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer)

The grated floor of the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library.

“I think [the library] is really beautiful, but I realized I couldn’t use it,” said Nomura, who studies landscape architecture and urban planning. “A successful design is something that all people can use, no matter who they are, or what their style is or what their clothing preference is.”

In response to these criticisms, architect Wolfgang Tschapeller M.Arch ’87, who designed the renovation, urged visitors to respect each other and not look up, Metropolis Magazine reported.

“It’s a beautiful library, so your eyes are drawn up, because you can see up through the floors of the library,” Nomura countered. “That comment [is] really disconnected from the actual human experience.”

Yuhan Ji ’21 said the first time she was in the library, she was sitting at a desk and happened to look up, where someone in a dress was standing.

“The floor is completely transparent,” Ji said. “Of course I could see everything.”

Tschapeller also told Metropolis Magazine that addressing the modesty concerns with by covering up the see-through floors would “literally destroy the project.”

“The flow of space and flow of air are essential,” he told the magazine.

As classmates reacted that they “couldn’t believe this happened,” Nomura said she wasn’t surprised about the oversight. Though these issues seem like common sense, not everyone thinks about these things, she explained.

“Every space that we use is designed by someone,” Nomura said. “[These concerns are] starting a really interesting conversation: Who is that someone? What’s their intention? Who are they really designing for?”

The upper floors of the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library, which hold the book stacks.

(Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer)

The upper floors of the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library, which hold the book stacks.

Prof. Jonathan Ochshorn ’75, architecture, also raised concerns about the library’s design and its lack of adequate safety precautions. He has been tracking the library for nearly a decade, and more recently writing on its renovation. On June 5, Ochshorn filed an official complaint about the design proposal with the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes.

For instance, Ochshorn wrote that the elevators are too small to fit a stretcher and noted potential fire-safety hazards, especially given the vertical design of the library. He specifically criticized the “vertical openings in bookstack floors” and that the “smoke control system does not protect building occupants.”

The Oversight Unit of the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes rejected the complaint on Sept. 26, but Ochshorn plans to appeal the decision.

Nomura also pointed out that there are shoe issues with the floors, which are grated. People wearing high heeled shoes will not be able to walk in the stacks without catching their heels in the holes. And in the winter, people will likely track in snow and slush that could melt and drip through the floors.

She explained that the library’s design set limits on who could use the library — “very specific things” have to be worn to be comfortable in the space.

“[In] design, you have to think about people first, and that’s how you shape your design,” Nomura said.

Officials from the architecture college and Tschapeller both did not respond to The Sun by publication time.

Other students using the space have also voiced their critiques about different aspects of the library and the barriers preventing them from using it.

Hana Gabrielle “HG” Bidon ’21 said the library is “overwhelming” and an auditory “sensory overload” for her. Ji agreed, finding the library “too loud,” with carts rolling over the metal floors, which don’t dampen any sound.

“Why didn’t they take that into consideration?” Bidon said. “[The library] is not welcoming at all.”

Bidon said she heard from friends that people with mobility or visual aids will not be able to experience the library as easily as others, because the grated floor would not be conducive to canes.

The grated floors, as seen from below.

(Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer)

The grated floors, as seen from below.

According to the architecture college’s website, the building is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ji also explained that her friends with acrophobia, or fear of heights, find themselves unable to access the books, because there isn’t a solid floor. The only other solution is to ask a librarian to retrieve the books for them, which can be stressful, she said.

“There are two simple things you want to be able to do in a library,” Ji, who studies landscape architecture, said. “You want to be able to study in the quiet, and you want to be able to find books. It doesn’t do any of them. It’s got to be a library first.”

Correction: This article originally misspelled the names of Nicole Nomura and Jonathan Ochshorn; it has since been corrected.