Monday, Columbia University dedicated a satellite campus on 17 acres in New York’s West Harlem neighborhood. Known as the Manhattanville Campus, the $6.3 billion development, which sits about a mile north of the Ivy League school’s main gates, will eventually comprise 6.8 million square feet of academic space. Officials hope the new facilities will help the university maintain its competitive edge. “We had to expand to have a future,” said Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, at a press event held in conjunction with the dedication.

The new campus’s first two buildings—the Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, a neuroscience lab—are nearly complete and expected to be fully operational in the spring. Both were designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), which also created the campus master plan in collaboration with Skidmore Owings & Merrill. A third building by RPBW, a multipurpose venue called the Forum, is under construction and scheduled to open in 2018. Other facilities planned for the site include a pair of structures for the business school by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and slated to be complete by 2021.

One of the overarching goals of the new Manhattanville facilities is to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration. The 9-story, steel-framed Greene Science Center, for example, accomplishes this with by clustering meeting rooms at the core and ringing them with open-plan labs and social spaces such as kitchens and outdoor terraces. Three sides of the building are clad in an ultra-transparent double-skin curtain wall that will allow students and passersby to see the activity taking place within. Its facade system also helps make the building into what Renzo Piano refers to as a “palace of light.” It lets ample daylight in, while controlling heat gain and glare. In addition, it mitigates the sound of the nearby elevated train line.

As with all of the new campus’s buildings, the ground floor of the Greene Science Center will be programmed for community use. It houses a wellness center that will provide health screenings to West Harlem residents and a lab that will offer neuroscience education to K-12 students. These are all part of a multi-faceted agreement with the neighborhood and an acknowledgment of the university’s hard-fought, multi-year battle to realize the project. The effort entailed rezoning the land and the use of eminent domain to acquire some of the property. “It took forbearance and forgiveness on the part of the surrounding community for Columbia to have this site,” said Bollinger.