Go to the Head of the Class
RECORD explores new collegiate architecture and how it reflects the innovative programs and shifting priorities of academia.
Despite rising tuition and cutbacks in government aid, a college education is still a blue chip investment. Graduates between 25 and 34 years old with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to be employed, and they earn a median income of 64 percent more than their cohort with only a high school diploma. About 20 million students are enrolled in American colleges and universities this fall, 5 million more than at the turn of the millennium.
To keep up with growth and embrace new fields of study, colleges and universities continue to build. And as administrators and boards of trustees know, the quality of facilities is key to competing for the best students and the best minds to teach them. In the following pages, record explores new collegiate architecture and how it reflects the innovative programs and shifting priorities of academia.
Take the new campus of Cornell Tech, just opening in New York, on an island in the East River, minutes from both Manhattan and Queens. A partnership between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, this institution for the advancement of digital technologies is not a typical ivory tower. Founded to link education and entrepreneurship, it has been designed for graduate students to mingle with those in business and tech start-ups, to facilitate research and collaboration. Its first academic buildings are by Morphosis and Weiss/ Manfredi. But this model is not unique to Cornell Tech. Lab City, an immense, dystopian-looking educational complex outside Paris—with vast, surprisingly light interior spaces—has been designed by OMA to similarly foster connections between students and entrepreneurs.
Spending on educational construction in the U.S., including college and university building, has been increasing since the recession. Cornell’s Ivy League sibling, Princeton University, just completed its biggest building project on campus, with the Lewis Center for the Arts, designed by Steven Holl Architects, at its core. The complex for music, dance, and other creative studies forms a new gateway on the western end of the university. Elsewhere on campus is the School of Architecture’s Embodied Computation Lab, a modest new structure by the firm The Living with a big agenda—to research advanced building technologies. Not far away is an exemplary adaptive reuse of a former historic chemistry lab (Princeton honored Albert Einstein on his 70th birthday with a symposium there). Designed by KPMB Architects, the intervention sensitively integrates contemporary design with the original’s collegiate Gothic style.
Restoration and expansion of existing building stock is, in fact, a significant chunk of capital spending on campuses. At Wellesley College, KieranTimberlake was faced with the challenge of a small footprint and steep grade change in designing an addition that joins two historic buildings for the arts (one of which the firm has renovated), and serves as a nexus between various parts of the campus. At the University of Michigan, an addition and a renovation of an existing building by Preston Scott Cohen has created a new home for the school of architecture and planning, with a distinctive jagged roof and light-filled studios.
Sometimes a single work of architecture can completely transform a neighborhood. Two cases in point: Kengo Kuma’s ArtLab at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, manages, with its daring, low-slung form, to bring order to a haphazard campus plan. And Carme Pinós’s elegantly tough La Massana Fine Arts School in Barcelona was the catalyst for the architect to redesign the vibrant plaza on which the school and several other buildings sit.
Like the best of academic architecture, Pinós’s work is not only an example of how to create a better environment for learning but is also a master class in placemaking.