New Interdisciplinary Research Building Links Academic Fields, Campus and Community

Feb. 9, 2011Bookmark and Share
In this video, President Lee C. Bollinger, architect José Rafael Moneo, Provost Claude Steele, architecture dean Mark Wigley and faculty researchers discuss the importance of the new Northwest Corner interdisciplinary science building to Columbia. (Watch a time-lapse video of the construction of the new building.)

(Editor's note: On Feb. 9, 2011, The New York Times published an architecture review and slideshow of Columbia’s new Northwest Corner Building. This Columbia News story and video on the interdisciplinary science building were originally posted on Dec. 10, 2010.)

Columbia University this week marks the official opening of its new 188,000 square foot Northwest Corner Building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect José Rafael Moneo, in collaboration with the architects at Madrid’s Moneo Brock Studio and New York’s Davis Brody Bond Aedas.
“What Rafael Moneo has created here is literally a bridge—both across areas of scientific knowledge and from our history to our future at Columbia,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “As the final addition to the original perimeter of our Morningside Heights campus, this building completes one of the greatest academic settings in the world, but it also performs an important task of opening up a new, transparent pathway between campus and community on a street corner where there had long been only a blank wall. This is an important milestone in Columbia’s history more than a century after our move from midtown to Upper Manhattan.”
The innovative structure houses cutting-edge labs gathering together researchers in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, as well as a science library, lecture hall and café, completing the outlines of the University’s original Morningside Heights campus plan by McKim, Mead, and White. Built as a bridge above the existing Levien Gym in the Dodge Physical Fitness Center and supported by a 129-foot long, three-dimensional truss, the 14-story facility accommodates seven double-height lab floors designed to mitigate vibration and allow for flexible layouts as new scientific research priorities evolve.
“The connections to the neighboring buildings guarantee activity and life, reinforcing the interdisciplinary program needed in state-of-the-art research,” Rafael Moneo said about his first building in New York City. “It has been very exciting to create a building in New York that uses this unique site to draw people together in new ways while respecting Columbia’s great campus architecture. I hope this building will become part of the fabric both of the University and of the city.”
Completed Northwest Corner Building, looking west from campus, December 2010 (© David Sundberg/Esto)The corner of 120th Street and Broadway, before constructionNorthwest Corner Building, looking southeast, December 2010Completed campus-level lobby looking out toward Pupin HallReading carrels in the fourth floor libraryThe fifth floor lecture hall seats over 100 people.State-of-the-art laboratories provide space for interdisciplinary research in chemistry, physics, engineering and biology.

Click the image to view a slideshow about the new Northwest Corner Building. slideshow

Elevated, enclosed bridges to adjacent science facilities in Pupin Hall and Chandler Hall will encourage more interaction among faculty and students from the University’s science and engineering departments. Interior lobbies flow from the sidewalk level at 120th Street and Broadway to a publicly accessible, 1,400 square foot café above, and are connected visually and spatially to the campus-level lobby. This adds a bright new public portal between the original, more cloistered campus design of the late 19th and early 20th century at a dark corner previously marked by an iron gate and the masonry wall of the gym. The facility also includes a 164-seat lecture hall and a two-story integrated science library. A new exterior stairway connects the sidewalk at 120th Street to Pupin Plaza, permitting direct access to campus. Several researchers have already moved into their labs, and the public spaces of the building, such as the library and café, will open in January.
When fully occupied, the building will provide research, teaching and study space for a community of faculty members and students working in 21 different labs. Among the first areas of research in the labs are nanotechnology, single molecule physics and chemistry, biophysics, and biochemistry and synthetic chemistry. The lab dedicated to biophysics and imaging will be conducting research that could lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of epilepsy. In the lab dedicated to biochemistry and synthetic chemistry, researchers will be using state-of-the-art tools to better understand the mechanisms of cell death involved in cancer and neurodegeneration.
A unitized glass and aluminum panel curtain wall on the west, Broadway-facing façade, mirrors the building’s structural steel system. The elevation expresses cross bracing locations of the three-dimensional truss structure on the exterior skin. The west façade wraps the laboratories and is composed of diagonally louvered opaque panels and horizontally louvered vision strip panels. The east, campus-facing façade, is a clear glass volume showcasing the activities of faculty and students within. Another clear glass volume at the top of the structure acts as a beacon toward the neighborhood and Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus.
Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, said that the new building achieves an innovative solution to a unique set of structural and design challenges of the site. “Like any great professor, what Rafael Moneo recognized is that universities are fundamentally a conversation—between people in and outside of the institution and between past and present—aimed at solving novel questions in new and untried ways. This building honors what was created by McKim, but in both materials and mission is a reflection of the needs and values of our own time.”
Turner Construction served as general contractor for the complex project. The integrated design process and materials used for the building aim to achieve a LEED® Silver rating, and design elements that meet Labs21® criteria, a voluntary partnership program dedicated to improving the environmental performance of U.S. laboratories.
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