Twin buildings with shuffling façades define DS + R’s new Columbia Business School

Developed alongside FXCollaborative as the newest addition to Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus in New York, the complex hosts dynamic circulation networks and vibrant spaces for learning.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Mar 14, 2022

The new home of the Columbia Business School in Manhattanville realised by acclaimed American architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro in association with Brooklyn-based practice FXCollaborative takes the form of a pair of institutional buildings featuring shuffled projections clad in glass, separated by an open plaza. Settled along the bank of the Hudson River in New York, USA, bordered by the heart of West Harlem on its land-facing side, the 492,000 sqft development’s location puts it nine blocks to the north of Columbia University’s historic Morningside Heights campus, acting as an organic extension that nearly doubles the school’s current square footage. As stated by the architects in an official release, the campus creates "multifunctional spaces that foster a sense of community - spaces where students, faculty, alumni, and practitioners can gather to exchange ideas.”

  • The new development comprises twin buildings separated by an open public plaza | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    The new development comprises twin buildings separated by an open public plaza Image: Iwan Baan
  • Located in Columbia University's Manhattanville campus in New York, the complex lies nine blocks to the north of the university's Morningside Heights campus | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    Located in Columbia University's Manhattanville campus in New York, the complex lies nine blocks to the north of the university's Morningside Heights campus Image: Iwan Baan

According to Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXColaborative - who were awarded the commission by Columbia University following an architecture competition that concluded in 2011 - the challenge of making the campus engage with the Manhattan neighbourhood of West Harlem was integral to the objectives of their collaborative design process. To this end, the set of structures - consisting of the 11-storey Henry R. Kravis Hall and the eight-storey David Geffen Hall - feature interior spaces that are seamlessly linked visually to the surrounding locale by means of their mostly-transparent glass façades. While Kravis Hall’s proximity to the Hudson River affords it a good deal of exposure to the waterfront, Geffen Hall "establishes a strong connection to the urban fabric of the neighbourhood and the mid-block pedestrian axis of the Manhattanville master plan,” as per the architects.

Shuffling projections and angular profiles define the façades of both structures | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
Shuffling projections and angular profiles define the façades of both structures Image: Iwan Baan

In order to create deeper connections with the local community, the latter building has set aside space on its second floor for the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, which extends the school's decade-long history of nurturing young entrepreneurs. The 17-acre Manhattanville campus also contains a number of buildings designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, including the Lenfest Center for the Arts, the Jerome L Greene Science Center, and The Forum. Finally, a 40,000 sq ft public park surrounded by retail spaces serves to fully embed the development into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

  • The transparent envelopes of the buildings create visual links to the streetscape outside | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    The transparent envelopes of the buildings create visual links to the streetscape outside Image: Iwan Baan
  • Columbia University's Manhattanville campus also hosts numerous buildings by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in addition to a 40,000 sq ft public park | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    Columbia University's Manhattanville campus also hosts numerous buildings by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in addition to a 40,000 sq ft public park Image: Timothy Schenck

Encapsulating the breakneck, technologically-driven social character of businesses in the current context, the sister buildings are engaged in a dialogue across the new plaza within the campus. Their interconnected designs were conceptualised to represent the importance of creativity, communication, and innovation in addition to the technical and quantitative knowledge imparted by business school pedagogy - where such skills are often developed in informal settings. The design represents this notion through a layered program that alternates between floors hosting faculty offices and student learning spaces in the Kravis Hall, while the Geffen Hall shifts between levels accommodating administrative offices and learning spaces. In this manner, the staggered, shuffling façade design, with its abundance of protrusions, curves, and jagged edges, arose as a consequence of this configuration.

Layering of functional spaces in the internal layouts served as the genesis of the shuffling façade designs | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
Layering of functional spaces in the internal layouts served as the genesis of the shuffling façade designs Image: Iwan Baan

Student floors and circulation spaces within both structures are enveloped by skins of transparent glass that are inset from the floor plate, maintaining transparency between interior and exterior. By contrast, the faculty floors are screened by fritted glass panels, as part of the custom curtain walls that dress the edifices of both buildings. Geffen Hall in particular employs a curtain wall system consisting of panels with bespoke frit patterns, carefully calculated to generate a gradient from opacity to transparency along the façade. Both buildings embrace the public space on the ground floor, with social and event spaces which establish "a strong visual and programmatic link across the publicly accessible central square to create one school from two buildings."

  • Social and event spaces with tiered seating on the ground floors create a dialogue with the public plaza outside | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    Social and event spaces with tiered seating on the ground floors create a dialogue with the public plaza outside Image: Iwan Baan
  • The design attempts to create links between the campus and the larger community that surrounds it | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    The design attempts to create links between the campus and the larger community that surrounds itImage: Iwan Baan

Moreover, the internal layering of functions within the two blocks is supported by the ‘Network’ - a series of stairs that weave through interconnected lounges, seminar spaces, breakout areas, carrels, and informal congregation spaces to knit different zones together, while slicing through both buildings to bring daylight into the deep plan forms. Described as the 'connective tissue' of the institutional architecture project by the architects, the Network winds through the building along a path adjacent to a bank of seven elevators that grant universal access to all floors. The design team explains, “Intersecting networks of circulation and collaborative learning environments extend up vertically through each building, linking spaces of teaching, socialising, and studying, to create a continuous space of learning and interaction that remains vibrant 24 hours a day.”

The 'Network' - a series of spiralling, sculptural staircases slices through the structures to knit different functional zones together | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
The 'Network' - a series of spiralling, sculptural staircases slices through the structures to knit different functional zones togetherImage: Iwan Baan

Paying heed to New York’s legacy of bridge design and its historic infrastructural landmarks, a custom wallpaper by Diller Scofidio + Renfro featuring four iconic city bridges - namely the the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Hell Gate Bridge, and the Harlem River Lift Bridge - decorates the walls of the elevator banks on student floors. Situated on the ground floor of Kravis Hall, the Samberg Commons space has been designed as an urban scale 'living room' for users including: students, faculty, and staff, with stepped, undulating seating in oak possessing a capacity of 200. This space also links to a dining area on the floor above, which can accommodate 199 users.

This dynamic circulation route is connected to interconnected lounges, seminar spaces, breakout areas, carrels, and informal congregation spaces | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
This dynamic circulation route is connected to interconnected lounges, seminar spaces, breakout areas, carrels, and informal congregation spacesImage: Iwan Baan

Complementing this space in the opposite block, the Cooperman Commons in Geffen Hall functions as an auditorium and everyday gathering space that can host 274 users. The third floor of this block also contains another flexible multifunctional room that can be subdivided into smaller spaces or serve as a venue for conferences when required. Alternatively, the Kravis Hall hosts a student social lounge with screening and game rooms on its fourth floor, with a walnut-panelled dining hall on the 10th floor that can seat 238. This space also flows into an outdoor terrace and boasts panoramic views of New York's George Washington Bridge. Group study rooms along the Network's staircase core on classroom floors offer a dynamic environment for interactive learning, equipped with small conference tables, fixed monitors, marker boards, and web conferencing technology. The internal layout also offers quiet study rooms for individual use with soft furniture to minimise sonic disturbances.

Group study areas have been placed along the path of the Network, serving as breakouts spaces for classrooms | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
Group study areas have been placed along the path of the Network, serving as breakouts spaces for classroomsImage: Iwan Baan

Diverse classroom sizes ranging from 25, 50, 74, and even 150-seat spaces are flooded with abundant daylight, with scintillating vistas of New York City available from within their enclosures. Their interior designs have also been fitted with daylight and privacy controls, in addition to classroom technology such as cameras and microphones to assist with remote learning alongside Columbia University’s global affiliates. Most of the opaque walls have been fitted with projection surfaces and display spaces. London-based multinational engineering consultants Arup were responsible for the structural design of the complex, helping to translate the architectural concepts of the spiralling, sculptural stair networks in the buildings, as well as the column-free classrooms in Kravis Hall - which employ ‘skip truss’ steel framing.

  • Classrooms have been fitted with technology to aid in remote learning and are afforded scintillating views of New York's skyline | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    Classrooms have been fitted with technology to aid in remote learning and are afforded scintillating views of New York's skyline Image: Iwan Baan
  • The project is expected to attain a LEED v3 Gold Certification | Columbia Business School in Manhattanville | Diller Scofidio + Renfro | STIRworld
    The project is expected to attain a LEED v3 Gold Certification Image: Iwan Baan

Sustainability was also a key component of the project's conceptualisation, with the campus expected to achieve a LEED v3 Gold certification in the view of the architects. In adhering to this standard of environmentally-conscious design, the design team made use of low-VOC materials, increased ventilation rates in air circulation systems, and outdoor air monitoring mechanisms to ensure optimum levels of air quality inside the buildings. Most of the materials utilised in the two structures were also sourced for their high percentages of recycled content and the wood featured throughout the design was obtained from sustainably managed forests. A combination of low velocity underfloor distribution and chilled beam technology in the heating and cooling systems in tiered classrooms has been implemented to ensure user comfort and regulate energy consumption within the development's built forms - which foster dynamic learning environments and inviting public spaces that could potentially herald a new dawn for Columbia Business School.

Project Details

Name: Columbia Business School Manhattanville
Location: Manhattanville, New York, USA
Client: Columbia University
Year of Completion: 2022
Architects: Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with FXCollaborative
Sustainability/ LEED consultant: FXCollaborative
Structural Engineer, Exterior Envelope and Façade Consultant: Arup
Associate Architect (Dedicated Dining, Multi-Function Room): Aaris Design Studios
Mechanical Engineer: Buro Happold
Construction Manager: Turner Construction
Lighting Design: Tillotson Design Associates
Acoustics: Cerami & Associates
Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen and Associates
Civil Engineering: Stantec Consultants
AV: Cerami & Associates, The Clarient Group, Jaffe Holden
IT: The Clarient Group, Jaros Baum & Bolles
Security: DVS Security Consulting and Engineering
Food Services: Romano Gatland
Cost Consulting: Dharam Consulting
Code: Milrose
Graphics and Wayfinding: Pentagram

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