The Morgan Library

Structural engineers working on buildings get used to anonymity. Even if a building has a daring structural design, most (or, often, all) of the press will name the architect rather than the engineer. In renovation projects, which make up nearly all of our firm’s design work, engineers are even less likely to receive much recognition. One of the reasons we at OSE like the Lucy Moses Awards is that every member of the team – the owners, the architects, the engineers, the conservators, the various contractors and sub contractors – all are named when the award is given to a project. Of course, sometimes our involvement really is small because the work doesn’t involve structural alterations. The recently completed work at the Morgan Library is an example.

“The library” now refers to the entire complex running from 36th to 37th Streets, including the full block front on Madison Avenue, but that campus includes both the Morgan house (converted to library, administrative, and restoration laboratory use) and a new building. The original library building is the marble palazzo seen above, circa 1910, and the garden that has been completed is largely the area between that building and the public sidewalk. The garden work was designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the lighting by Linnaea Tillett, the associated architectural work by Beyer Blinder Belle, and the masonry and metal conservation by Integrated Conservation Resources. The team is larger than that, but that was the core.

Simply put, there was no structural scope in the proposed work. That’s not the same as saying there was no structural work required, as non-structural scope sometimes needs some structural back-up. At an early stage, Johanna Molander and I reviewed the long-term stability of the entrance arch and portico, and found that it was fine as is. The small cracks that were the trigger for our analysis were the ordinary workings of the masonry arch and vault. Since then, Marie Ennis and Ellen Key have been involved with analysis required for mounting the new light fixtures on the historic building, providing a solid base for new paving and decorative fences, providing footings for the outdoor art (including the rather large sarcophagus mentioned in the linked article), and providing substructure for reconstructed areaways and steps as well as a new ramp for universal access. None of these is “structural work” in the ordinary sense of the word, but all were part of the behind-the-scenes prep for the visible portions of the scope.

Our work on projects like this is to enable everyone else on the design team rather than structural alteration or restoration work. And that’s fine: nearly all of our work is in support of other professionals (architects, conservationists, sometimes mechanical engineers) anyway. That relationship is simply made clearer than usual on a project like this.

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