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Grate job, guys! The open-air flooring of the new Cornell Fine Arts Library has traded sightlines for privacy issues. (image by and courtesy of © Lukas Schaller)

The conceptual foundation for the long-anticipated redesign of the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library, executed by Wolfgang Tschapeller, is a space that is, in the words of the architect, “scaled to the book.”

“As a human, you are not the main character, you are a guest between the books,” Tschapeller told Metropolis. And yet, the end-users, especially those inclined to wear skirts, are feeling even more on display than the 100,000 books arranged on floating shelves, due to the open sightlines afforded by slatted gratings that allow air and light to circulate between the levels of the open-concept library. Not only are these grates an open invitation to perv, they present fairly treacherous terrain for anyone wearing heels, as well as a potential access problem for people who require assisted mobility devices.

As noted by Twitter user Marie Kennedy, women who were interviewed for the Metropolis article were apprehensive about using the library, after having a first encounter with the see-through flooring.

“Knowing that I have to think about what I’m wearing as I enter the library is off-putting to me. What was Cornell thinking?” said second-year graduate Nicole Nomura, to Metropolis. One might almost think that the five-year design process of the library involved male architects thinking harder about how to make the space accommodating to books and air rather than females and disabled bodies. It’s like architecture is a historically sexist profession that is incredibly slow to incorporate the contributions of women.

The library’s beautiful, soaring architecture will be a perfect venue to have slush rained upon you! Majestic! (image by and courtesy of © Lukas Schaller)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: the only women who know how to read are dowdy matrons who wear tweedy trousers and vests and have unkempt frizzy hair. Guilty as charged! But even if I didn’t have to worry about accidentally revealing my appendices or cracking a spine on the slatted floors, this bookworm can tell you that the last thing I want at the library is people looking at me! I go to the library to invisibly revel in my advancing spinsterhood, and the last thing I need is some dashing architecture student trying to make eye contact through the floor while I subtly press flowers between the pages of Jane Austen books. Plus I don’t want my tears of loneliness to fall onto his wavy chestnut hair.

Speaking of falling debris, Tschapellar is a Cornell alumnus, and designed the wide-open space with his firsthand knowledge of the low-light months in upstate New York, but declined to consider how the slush of the inclement weather seasons might be transmitted through open-grate flooring onto library patrons OR the precious, precious books for whom the space was expressly designed. Or maybe he just assumed that all $21.6 million buildings have a compulsory boot-washing station as a matter of course.

One thinks any alumna would have made sure the library contained some areas for its two primary functions: crying quietly and having panic attacks. Maybe there’s a little privacy corner over by the romance novel shelves.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

11 replies on “Grate Job, Guys: Cornell Fine Arts Library Privileges Architecture Over People”

      1. bitching about people bitching about bitching about upskirting is definitely not embarassing (sic) at all.

          1. meaningless pos “found the creep” lol gtfoh with ur pseudo woke shit man. i love sharps witty humour, i just find it embarrassing to read critique about architecture that doesn’t respect womens right to wear a skirt. that part wasn’t ironic. that part was moronic.

          2. what do you mean? what part was hard to understand and il try to rephrase. you see im not natively english speaking – its my fourth language.

  1. I’m glad I don’t have o use that library – my weight plus the weight of my mobility scooter would probably break one of those grated floors, and that’s if those levels were even accessible to someone using a wheelchair or scooter, which looks highly doubtul.

  2. It’s a pity as I understand what the architect is trying to do and by the photos it appears that he’s succeeded in creating a light filled space .

    I have been to other large libraries -such as the Library of Congress and light is often a problem, this was often solved by using round thick glass tiles much like the ones on sidewalks in lower Manhattan that gave daylight to basements before electric light.

    I think if the architect can figure out a way to fix the library with some variation of this, the problems will be solved.

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