Morphosis Architects marked the official opening of The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center on 13.9.17, the academic hub of the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. With the goal of becoming a net zero building, The Bloomberg Center, designed by the global architecture and design firm, forms the heart of the campus, bridging academia and industry while pioneering new standards in environmental sustainability through state-of the-art design.
Spearheaded by Morphosis’ Pritzker Prize-winning founder Thom Mayne and principal Ung-Joo Scott Lee, The Bloomberg Center is the intellectual nerve center of the campus, reflecting the school’s joint goals of creativity and excellence by providing academic spaces that foster collective enterprise and collaboration.
“The aim of Cornell Tech to create an urban center for interdisciplinary research and innovation is very much in line with our vision at Morphosis, where we are constantly developing new ways to achieve ever-more-sustainable buildings and to spark greater connections among the people who use our buildings. With the Bloomberg Center, we’ve pushed the boundaries of current energy efficiency practices and set a new standard for building development in New York City,” said Morphosis founder and design director Thom Mayne.
The four-story, 160,000 sq ft academic building is named in honor of Emma and Georgina Bloomberg in recognition of a $100m gift from Michael Bloomberg, who was responsible for bringing Cornell Tech to New York City while serving as the city’s 108th Mayor.
The Bloomberg Center is a four-story building set beneath a photovoltaic canopy, with a low and narrow profile framing stunning views across the island. One of the building’s most distinctive features is its façade, optimized to balance transparency—maximizing daylighting and exterior views, and opacity— maximizing insulation and reducing thermal bridging.
Designed as a rain screen system, the outermost layer of the façade is composed of aluminum panels surfaced in an iridescent, PPG polymer coating. Viewed from afar, the aluminum panels register a continuous image that merges the river-view scenery from Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island location and Cornell University’s idyllic campus in Ithaca, New York. Facing the city, the Bloomberg Center’s west façade registers the image of the Manhattan skyline as it is viewed directly across the East River. Along the campus’ main entry and central circulation spine (the “Tech Walk”), the east façade registers an image of Ithaca’s famous gorges.
Designed in collaboration with Zahner, an architectural metal fabricator, the façade utilizes Zahner’s Louvered ZIRA™ system to create the image patterning. Each pixel of the image is translated into the specific turn-and-tilt of a two-inch circular tab punched into the aluminum paneling; the depth and rotation of each tab determines the amount of light reflected. This pixel map was fed into a repurposed welding robot, which processed the digital information into the mechanical turning-and-tilting of the façade’s 337,500 tabs. The algorithm controlling the robot was developed in collaboration with Cornell and MIT students.
“Our collaboration with the Cornell and MIT students to develop the building’s façade is an example of the type of connections that Cornell Tech will foster between academia and tech industries,” said Ung-Joo Scott Lee, Principal at Morphosis and Project Principal of the Bloomberg Center. “We were ultimately interested in demonstrating that designing for net zero creates not only a more energy efficient building but, in fact, a healthier and more comfortable environment to its occupants. The very systems that provide our path to high building performance are the same systems that provide better control to its users while giving the building its distinct identity. Cornell University’s leadership in sustainability is central to their mission; we look to continue that leadership in both upstate as well as downstate campuses.”
The Bloomberg Center also serves as a focal point for the Roosevelt Island community, with a publicly accessible ground-floor café located at the southern end of the building. The entry atrium and the Lecture Hall, aligned with Manhattan’s 57th Street, connects building users with Manhattan views across the river. Visible from the campus’ Tech Plaza, a monumental stair rising from the main lobby guides vertical circulation to all levels. Highlighting Cornell Tech’s river-to river campus, the main stair looks out onto Queens through a viewing corridor framed by other campus buildings. An open galleria extends throughout the length of the building, serving as a shared avenue for informal encounters, discussions, and collaborations. Enclaves for impromptu meetings line the main galleria, with conference rooms and multipurpose meeting areas capping the ends.
The academic spaces in The Bloomberg Center are designed around fundamental changes in learning and teaching that are happening at all institutional levels today. The Center features a varied set of spaces to support different learning modes allowing for flexible and mobile learning. Collaborative and flexible spaces are as important as private and meditative spaces. While offering traditional classroom spaces and large open workspace areas, there are also clusters of breakout spaces, huddle rooms, and social areas that allow for group study, as well as quiet rooms and micro-pods that function as private work spaces or telephone booths.
In keeping with the mission of sparking creativity, one percent of the Bloomberg Center’s overall budget is dedicated to art. Newly commissioned, site-specific artworks by prominent contemporary artists, including Matthew Ritchie, Michael Riedel, Alison Elizabeth Taylor, and Matthew Day Jackson are integrated within the fabric of Morphosis’ design. The Bloomberg Center also includes a restored WPA-era mural by Ilya Bolotowsky that was uncovered in the former Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island after its closure in 2014.
Sustainability at the Bloomberg Center
Planned to be among the largest net-zero energy academic buildings and reach LEED Platinum status, the building’s primary power is generated on-site. The campus employs multiple strategies to achieve a low-energy building through a stepped approach. The building prioritizes energy demand reductions and load reductions as well as maximizing passive and energy efficient design through the use of renewable energy to power building systems. Key design elements to achieve the environmental goals and efficient energy usage include:
- An all-electric building: No fossil fuel is used in the building.
- Solar power: A 40,000-square-foot canopy supporting 1,465 photo voltaic panels tops the Bloomberg Center (and neighboring The Bridge building), converging engineering requirements and architecture to generate solar power while decreasing cooling loads by providing building shading.
- Green roof: A low-maintenance green roof houses native plant species along the southeast outdoor terrace to help cool roof surface and manage stormwater runoff.
- Smart building technology: Designed by Morphosis and engineering firm Arup, smart building features link lighting control, occupancy sensors, security, and other building controls to provide on-demand power and respond to user needs and occupancy.
- Highly insulated façade: A unitized, continuously insulated rainscreen wall system covered by a metal panel façade balances exterior views and daylight, maximizes insulation values, and minimizes thermal bridging. The project achieves 60 percent of its façade to be heavily insulated opaque walls, with 40 percent high-performance insulated glass units.
- Geothermal wells: 80 closed-loop geothermal wells, each 400 feet deep, are located under the South Lawn, the campus’ main public open space. Electrically powered ground-source heat pumps are used for heating through perimeter hot-water radiation and cool the building through an active chilled-beam system.
- Rainwater collection system: A 40,000-gallon rainwater harvesting tank is buried under the campus lawn, providing non-potable water for the building’s plumbing system, cooling tower, and on-site irrigation.
- Resiliency: Critical building equipment is located in a rooftop mechanical room, while the cellar-level footprint and equipment is minimized. The building’s ground floor, as well as entry doors and windows, are elevated to address higher flood plain elevations. The Bloomberg Center opens as part of phase one of the new campus, which also includes The Bridge—a first-of-its-kind building that will host a mix of cutting-edge companies working alongside groundbreaking Cornell academic teams—and The House, a residential building that is the largest Passive House in the world, widely recognized as the most rigorous international energy efficiency standard.