Campus expansion envelops New York City

Monday 12 Apr 2010

NYU seeks to grow by 40 percent and new buildings emerge at Barnard, John Jay College, New School and Cooper Union

Various proposals are underway at New York City colleges and universities for new buildings and sweeping development plans that will change the face of the city. Importantly, these projects allow great institutions to grow, to maintain their relevancy in an ever-competitive global marketplace. But they also affect the neighborhoods of which they are a part, and therefore must be weighed in the larger context of the greater public good being served, which raises the question as to how or if these institutions can continue grow without resulting in a diminution of the public realm.

It is always a difficult call to make as to where to come down in the town and gown debate. And nowhere are the stakes as high or the conversation on the matter as lively than in New York. This year two of New York’s world-class universities, New York University and Columbia University, have put massive expansion plans in play, which has not engendered warm and fuzzy feelings from the surrounding neighbourhood. But before we castigate them for their desire to continue to grow within the fabric of the city and the challenges it brings, least we not forget that these institutions help to make the city great and vice versa, with many of them championing world-class architecture.

New York University
First up and right in front of us is NYU’s 2031 expansion. Three years in the making, this plan seeks to add 6 million square feet of space in New York City over the next 20 years – increasing the campus by 40 percent. It is an audacious undertaking and the largest in the history of the school, which was founded in 1831. The plan calls for creating a satellite campus on Governors Island and a new engineering school in Brooklyn. But by far its primary thrust and most controversial component is the intensive build-out envisioned for NYU’s core campus, which will add 3.6 million square feet of space to an area that includes Union Square, Washington Square and the East Village. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation finds the plan ‘deeply troubling’ and points out that the proposed expansion is the equivalent of all the school’s development in the neighbourhood over the past fourty two years. But beyond his concern for the rate of development, Berman has issues with NYU’s general approach to development as well as with its scale and quality. Berman said that the proposed development is ‘not per the school’s agreement’, which is ‘to reuse buildings rather than tearing them down and to find places outside of the Village to expand’.

In 2008, he vigorously fought NYU and prevailed over its plans to demolish the Provincetown Playhouse, a nationally protected heritage building. And while his efforts along with massive public outcry has resulted in NYU revising its plan to reuse more buildings, the general gist of the plan, which envisions ‘mega dorms’ and tall structures that will dwarf the Village’s mostly low-scaled buildings, greatly altering its character is still very much in tact. So expect a knockdown, drag-out, all-out war, a la Jane Jacobs, waged over this plan between the pied pipers of the Village and the great political machine that is NYU.

Perhaps less contested are NYU’s initiatives outside the Village. Farther uptown, on Manhattan’s East Side, the university is planning a ‘health corridor’ that will share space with an existing dental school. In Brooklyn, NYU plans to build 1 million square feet of space for a new engineering school at the Polytechnic University campus, with which it plans to merge in the next three to five years. And, at Governors Island, NYU envisions an institute that will unite several academic disciplines creating a think tank focused on building great cities.

NYU has been helped by long list of design professionals. The plan was guided early on by four firms: SMWM, now Perkins + Will; Toshiko Mori, Grimshaw Architects and the Olin Partnership. Mori and Grimshaw have stayed on as the design team, and have added landscape architecture firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to work with them on the development around Greenwich Village. Cooper, Robertson & Partners is heading up the Brooklyn site and on the Governors Island plan. And, Polshek Partnership is leading the health corridor effort.

Columbia University
In thinking about NYU’s 2013 plan, it is hard not to talk about Columbia University’s equally sweeping and controversial plan for Manhattanville in West Harlem. Like NYU, Columbia seeks to expand its campus around its core in Morningside Heights. The plan calls for building a 17-acre satellite campus with 6.8 million square feet of space. Led by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop with SOM, the plan has faced massive opposition. While Columbia failed to acquire all the needed property for the development through condemnation, since the court ruled last year in favor of one holdout who refused to sell his land, utility work for first phase of the project has begun despite Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s insistence that the plan must be implemented in whole or not at all. The first phase calls for new business, art, engineering and applied sciences, and international and public affairs schools as well as a science center and a secondary school focused on math and engineering.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
While NYU’s and Columbia’s expansion plans are sweeping gestures, many of the city’s colleges and universities , such as John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Cooper Union and the New School, are growing one building at a time. SOM has designed John Jay College’s expansion in Midtown Manhattan. Slated for completion in 2011, SOM has designed a glassy 14-storey structure, billed as an ‘academic city within a city’, that will provide 627,000 square feet of classrooms, labs and gathering space for this institution.

Other institutions
The New School, The Cooper Union and Barnard have each realized projects of exceptional architectural merit this past year. Barnard built a new campus center designed by Weiss Manfredi Architects, the Diana Center, that is both place a part of and apart from the city. And, The New School and Cooper Union have built projects that were recognized with design awards in the 2010 AIA New York’s annual Design Awards Program, demonstrating that some of the city’s colleges and universities do their best at championing design excellence. Cooper Union’s 41 Cooper Square, designed by Morphosis Architects and Gruzen Samton scooped an AIA New York Honor Award. And Lyn Rice’s design for a new Welcome Center at the New School, garnered a merit award in the interiors category.

As these plans unfold and projects reach completion there is sure to be more to say on the matter. But for now, campus construction in New York seems to be quite lively and earning mostly good grades.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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