The first academic building at Cornell Tech, the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, is a gleaming, bold statement on the new island campus for Cornell Tech, a partnership of Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Its muscular, athletic stance, where a solar roof of 1,464 photovoltaic (PV) panels is boosted above four stories of teaching spaces, exultantly declares we have arrived about this adventurous step in bringing digital education and entrepreneurship together. Yet Thom Mayne, the design director and founder of Morphosis Architects, a Los Angeles– and New York–based firm, brushes off the implication that an arresting expression was intentional for this graduate computer-science and engineering facility. “I don’t design icons,” he says without irony—even though academic buildings by Morphosis such as Gates Hall at Cornell’s Ithaca, New York, campus, or Emerson College in L.A. do stand out forcefully from the crowd.

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Mayne invokes sustainability—particularly the Bloomberg’s lily pad canopy of PVs—as the foremost generator of his scheme. It is only the tip of the hat to an array of green features such as geothermal wells, and a rainwater-collection system for the all-electricity (no combustion) building. The overall desire is to attain net zero energy, with the building producing, over the course of a year, at least as much energy from renewable sources as it consumes. Morphosis originally envisioned a roof of PVs that would float across the pedestrian plaza and central circulation spine to The Bridge building by Weiss/Manfredi on the eastern side of the site to provide enough energy to meet the goal. Ultimately the idea was scaled back so that each structure has its own solar canopy: the Bloomberg Center’s is 40,000 square feet. Taken with The Bridge’s, the two arrays create the equivalent of a 900-kilowatt system. Whether the center proves to be “zero” or only “lite” will be answered by future monitoring.

To cut energy consumption, however, Morphosis clad the Bloomberg Center in a rainscreen wall system that maximizes insulation values and minimizes thermal bridging. In addition, the outermost layer is punched with 2-inch circular tabs and coated in an iridescent polymer film. “We wanted a dynamic facade,” says Ung-Joo Scott Lee, Morphosis principal. To get the full optical effect, the architects worked with Zahner, the architectural-metal fabricator, and received digital input from Cornell and MIT students.

The iridescent, sparkling exterior skin is cut away so that bands of glazing do admit light to an array of educational spaces but maintain the recommended 60:40 ratio of wall surface to glass. Open classrooms are located on the western side of the building, facing Manhattan, and 76 small “huddle” rooms, where three or four people can meet, are on the east, oriented toward Queens. The huddle rooms evolved out of the desire by Daniel Huttenlocher, Cornell Tech dean and vice provost, to encourage an improvisatory exchange of ideas among the students and faculty. Whether these remain unassigned spaces or are appropriated by faculty members is unclear.

To ensure a fluidity of space that might spark spontaneous interaction, Morphosis placed a four-story atrium (five-story along the west) at the center of the building, anchored by an expansive stairway. At the second level, ancillary stairs take over the circulation. One veers into a curved appendage that protrudes outside the main volume of the building; its steel structure helps prop up the solar-canopy roof, which otherwise depends on the extension of the Center’s steel columnar grid for support.

The atrium’s curvilinear walls, plus a stair’s glass enclosure, along with artist Matthew Ritchie’s resin, glass, and ink, 80-foot-high mural create an active core for the Center. In addition, a long galleria cut north–south through three stories of the western portion of the building offers another opportunity for casual encounter. Here five glass boxes for collaboration appear to float high in the void. (They are actually cantilevered from the steel frame.) Although the interior is more crepuscular than The Bridge across the plaza, skylights introduce illumination, while the white solid surfaces of the lockers on the second floor and polished concrete floors help bounce light.

The café, at the main entrance facing the plaza and Tech Walk, is open to the public. Its swooping, white, serpentine counter and the lowered ceiling soffit are handsomely offset by an inkjet artwork by Michael Riedel printed on the acoustical panels of the ceiling and silkscreened on the café tabletops. Adding an unusual note, a series of “discovery rooms” contain art installations by Alison Elizabeth Taylor and Matthew Day Jackson. But the most surprising one has a striking 50-foot-long mural by Ilya Bolotowski from 1941 that was painted for the WPA program and salvaged from the Goldwater Memorial Hospital formerly on the site. (Another mural from Goldwater by Albert Swinden has found a home in The Bridge.)

If art seems unusual for a high-tech school, so are the grassy terraces, the variegated plantings, and the contoured lawns by James Corner Field Operations. They unite the exterior spaces around the Center with its neighbors, creating numerous places for socializing in good weather. With its glinting skin that turns different colors in the sunlight, the Bloomberg Center is a strong and welcome presence for the approximately 300 master’s and Ph.D. students and 30 faculty members now using it. In deference to the architect, let’s not call it an icon. But it helps that a by-product of functional and environmental concerns is a magnetic work of architecture.


Next case study: The Bridge by Weiss/Manfredi

Back to "Cornell Tech Dreams Big on Roosevelt Island"



Morphosis Architects

153 W 27th Street, Suite 1200

New York, NY 10001



Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Thom Mayne FAIA

Ung-Joo Scott Lee, AIA

Edmund Ming-Yip Kwong

Jerry Figurski, AIA Assoc.

Debbie Chen, RA

Stuart Franks

Farah Harake

Cory Brugger



ARUP Engineers: SMEP, Façade, Lighting, Acoustic, TelCom, Fire Alarm, Fire Protection, Audio Visual, BMS Controls, Sustainability.



Waterproofing: Henshell and Buccellatto Consulting Architects

Geotechnical: Mueser Rutledge Consulting

Food Services: Jacobs Doland Beer

Cost Estimating: Dharam Consulting

Graphic Design: Pentagram

Building Code: Code Consultants, Inc.

Specification: Construction Specifications, Inc.



Kilograph, Morphosis


General contractor:

Barr & Barr



Iwan Baan/ Matt Carbone


Structural System

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:

Base Building Structural Steel: Beauce Atlas

Miscellaneous Metal: Crystal Metalworks

PV Steel Support: Koenig


Exterior Cladding

Metal Cladding: Zahner

Unitized Façade/ Rain Screen: Island Exterior Fabricators

Exterior Glazing: W&W Glass

Curtain wall: YKK

Other cladding unique to this project:

Flat and Curved IGU: Cristacurva



Built-up roofing: Sarnafil/Sika

Tile: Sarnatherm Heavyguard



Metal frame: YKK



Interior Glazing: Infinite Glass and Metal

Skylights: LineEl

Dome skylights: Wasco



Entrances: Dawson Balanced Doors


Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings: Lindner, Baswaphon, Armstrong

Suspension grid: Steel Ceilings

Operable partitions: Hufcor

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Kundig Contracting

Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore, Idea Paint

Solid surfacing: DuPont Corian

Floor and wall tile: Interface, Daltile

Special interior finishes unique to this project: 3Form Varia Eco Resin Wall Paneling

Interior Shades: Mechoshade

Interior Gypsum Prefabricated Products: Plasterform



Office furniture and seating: Teknion, Herman Miller, Vitra, Wilkhahn, Andreu World, Allermuir,

Fixed seating: Theatre Solutions

Tables: Herman Miller

Other furniture, phone booths: Martela/Framery.



Interior ambient lighting: HE Williams, Linear Lighting, Lucifer Lighting Co.

Downlights: USAI BeveLED

Exterior: Architectural Lighting Works

Dimming system or other lighting controls: Crestron

Stretch Fabric Ceiling: Newmat



Elevators/escalators: Kone



[putting each product on a separate line, enter in this way: "Product: Manufacturer Name"]

Water closets and urinals: ToTo

Faucets: Toto

Hand Dryer: American Specialties Inc.

Toilet partitions: ASI, Global Partitions

Custom restroom sinks: Kundig Contracting





Photovoltaic panel: Solaria

Photovoltaic system: Entersolar

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:

Rain Water Harvesting System and Control by: Highmark and Aquanomix.

Reclaimed oak from sitework: Kundig Contracting