New York Public Library—Rose Reading Room Restoration
New York City   
Best Project

Project Owner/Developer: The New York Public Library
General Contractor/Construction Manager: AECOM Tishman
Lead Design Firm: Wiss Janney Elstner Associates Inc.
Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates

In 2013, a 16-lb ornamental plaster rosette fell from the 52-ft-high ornate ceiling in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room. The room was immediately closed to the public pending a structural investigation.

During the two-year closure, professionals examined the rosettes on site and in a lab, load-tested and probed their anchor system, evaluated roof trusses, observed environmental conditions and surveyed the ceiling for any defects. The investigation revealed that a combination of human activity and moisture-related degradation were likely the cause and introduced multiple approaches to prevent similar problems in the more than century-old building.

The ceilings of both the Rose Reading Room and Bill Blass Catalog Room, which span almost 30,000 sq ft, were shielded by an extensive scaffold system, preventing future plaster from falling into open areas below and providing a work platform for restoration workers. To mend the damage while preserving the historic ceiling, repairs were matched to the original construction. Redundant stainless steel cable supports were introduced that would engage only if the primary support failed.

A new ceiling mural in the adjacent Catalog Room was installed over the existing one, allowing the option of a full restoration in the future; it matches similar murals in the Reading Room, fabricated and installed by the same artisans nearly 20 years ago. Additionally, all chandelier chains were inspected and repaired, and lighting cleaned.  Electrical wiring was replaced, and lamping was changed to high efficiency LEDs. Despite $1 million added to construction costs by including the chandelier work, the project was completed ahead of schedule and below the original budget.

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