The City College of New York (CCNY) is a bit like an academic Acropolis. Situated in Upper Manhattan on one of the island’s highest points, its collection of early 20th-century neo-Gothic buildings, by George B. Post—and more recent additions by architects that include Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rafael Viñoly—sit high above the surrounding neighborhood of townhouses and low-scale apartment buildings. Here, on the site of a former athletic field, City College and its parent institution, the City University of New York (CUNY), have created a new type of beacon on a hill, with two sleek but sculptural glass-clad buildings housing state-of-the-art laboratories for research in disciplines such as neuroscience, nanoscience, and environmental science.
The two new facilities—the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), serving visiting scientists and the whole CUNY system, and the Center for Discovery and Innovation, for CCNY’s own graduate and undergraduate programs—reinforce the planning logic established by the rest of the City College campus. The four- and five-story steel structures, comprising almost 400,000 square feet of laboratories, offices, an auditorium, and meeting rooms, extend the pattern of paired buildings flanking a central pedestrian spine, says Hana Kassem, a director at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the project’s design architect. By compressing the buildings and pushing them together, the architects create a common entry plaza for the research complex and also release some of the open space provided by the former athletic field, preserving part of the site for recreational use by students and the surrounding community, she explains.
Below the new plaza, the two buildings are connected by a supersize at-grade floor partially submerged in the surrounding terrain. It contains shared facilities, including clean rooms, a vivarium, and imaging suites. But above the plaza level, they clearly read as two separate structures, albeit with nearly identical DNA. Almost mirror images of each other, the office spaces for both are enclosed behind gently curving, ribbonlike curtain walls that help define the entry plaza. But beyond these sinuous elements, rising more than a full story taller (due to their considerable mechanical equipment requirements) are the buildings’ bar-shaped lab volumes. These were made rectilinear and orthogonal so that their interiors could be easily reconfigured to accommodate rapidly evolving research.
A common genetic structure is also found in the buildings’ interior organization: both are arranged around central stair atriums, conceived as hinges that link different programmatic elements both vertically and horizontally. These atria are the most dramatic of several types of spaces—including lounges, conference rooms, and informal meeting areas—intended to promote social interaction and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Although the buildings can be thought of as twins, they have distinct personalities, as exemplified by, for instance, their interior palettes. The Center for Discovery and Innovation is the more gregarious sibling, at least in terms of its finishes: its atrium has a bright-white terrazzo floor, a red resin stair balustrade, and yellow-stained laminated plywood on the walls. The ASRC materials, meanwhile, are more subdued: its atrium features soft-green terrazzo, bamboo, and polychroic glass that subtly changes color with the lighting conditions.
The two buildings have other slight differences, reflecting the needs of their users. One illustration is each facility’s linear equipment room, or LER—a space for heat- and noise-generating equipment that doubles as circulation. At the Center for Discovery and Innovation, the LER runs down the spine of the floor plate, between the offices and labs. But at the ASRC, where scientists required a stronger link between their research and support spaces, this element has been pushed to the building’s perimeter, allowing the labs and the offices to be adjacent to each other. The arrangement has a fringe benefit: it meant the project team could create a daylight-filled LER that is glazed on both sides, so that anyone passing through it has views into labs and also out over the neighborhood rooftops.
These minor differences not withstanding, the buildings come across as a cohesive ensemble—an outcome of attention to details like the frittted glass fins that project from the undulating curtain walls. The fins’ primary purpose is to mitigate glare within the offices, but, outside, they also blur the buildings’ profiles against the sky and provide texture, and scale that helps mask the buildings’ true size. The effect is reinforced by the plaza’s landscape, which includes tall grasses and attenuated birch trees that gently sway in the wind.
It is through such subtle moves that the buildings stand out as welcoming beacons for the sciences. The ambition, says Kassem, was to create “a space that envelopes, and not buildings that overwhelm you”—a goal that she and the rest of the team have unequivocally achieved.
Size: 399,460 gross square feet
Cost: $708 million
Completion Date: September 2014
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC
11 West 42nd Street
New York, NY10036
Tel: (212) 977-6500
Fax: (212) 956-2526
261 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 897-3000
Fax: (212) 213-8520
Client: City University of New York, New York, New York (CUNY)
Owner: Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY)
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Architect: KPF
Interior designer: KPF (Public Spaces), Flad Architects (Lab & Office Spaces)
Civil: Langan Engineers
Mechanical: Cosentini Associates, Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Geo-Technical: Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers
Laboratory Planning: Flad Architects
Landscape: Weintraub Diaz Landscape Architecture
Lighting: Susan Brady Lighting Design
Acoustical/AV/Security/IT: Shen Milsom & Wilke
Atelier Ten: Sustainability
Clean Room: Facility Planning & Resources, INc. (FPR)
Shielding: Field Management Services, Inc. (FMS)
Graphics: Lebowitz Gould Design
Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Associates
Building Envelope Consultant: Heitmann & Associates, Inc.
Metal Panels: Permasteelisa
Metal/glass curtain wall: Permasteelisa
Moisture barrier: WR Grace
Curtain wall: Permasteelisa
Acoustic Louvers: CS Group
Roof Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products
Leak Detection System: Gaussan Technologies (formerly Progeo)
Louvers: CS Group
Observatory Dome: Ash Dome
Metal frame: (see curtain wall info)
Metal doors: L.I.F. Industries, Inc.
Wood doors: Marshfield Door Systems
Sliding doors: DIRTT
Fire-control doors, security grilles: The Cookson Company, Inc.
Upswinging doors, other: The Cookson Company, Inc.
Closers: Stanley & LCN
Exit devices: Von Duprin and Stanley
Pulls: Burns Manufacturing, Inc.
Security devices: DynaLock and Security Door Controls
Suspension grid: Armstrong
Demountable partitions: DIRTT
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Sloan & Company
Paints and stains: PPG Industries
Acoustic Wall Panels:
Plastic laminate: Nevamar, Wilsonart
Solid surfacing: Dupont Corian
Floor and wall tile:
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Laboratory Furniture & Fume Hoods: Lab Crafters, Inc & OC River Laboratory Furniture (wood casework)
Window Coverings and Interior Drapery: Mechoshade
Reception furniture: Herman Miller (desk, storage, custom transaction surfaces)
Downlights: Lum-Tech, Kenall, Pure lighting, Global Lighting, Flos
Task lighting: Herman Miller
Exterior: Kenall, Bega
Dimming System or other lighting controls: fifth Light Technology, Ltd.
Water Closets: Zurn
Lavatories: American Standard with Zurn Aqua Sense fittings
Electric Water Coolers: Elkay