The New School, a university that includes the Parsons School of Design, has long operated out of a motley collection of spaces in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Hoping to create a campus center, the school proposed building a 350-foot-tall tower on a site has owned since the 1960s, at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. A tall, tapered building would have enhanced that crossroads. But facing neighborhood opposition, the school scaled back its plans, ending up with a structure that, at 16 stories and 178 feet, is so squat it looks incomplete—inadvertently suggesting that the institution lacks ambition.
The new building, officially called the University Center at The New School, was designed by Roger Duffy, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and a leader of its education practice. Duffy chose to cover the $135 million facility in brass panels arrayed in overlapping layers. Alas, the color of the panels is muddy at best. (Duffy calls it chestnut and compares the artificially-weathered, mottled-brown brass to the brick and carved limestone of nearby buildings.) Between its massing and its sheathing, the building diminishes the neighborhood, and possibly the institution it is meant to herald. Duffy, an innovator whose net-zero elementary school on Staten Island is under construction, may have focused more on function than on outward form.