Three months from now, a handful of incoming computer science students will start their degrees at Cornell Tech, ensconced on the third floor of Google’s Chelsea Market headquarters. But according to the upstate Ivy, those students are merely “beta testers” for the school’s planned campus of 2,000 students located on Roosevelt Island, a thin strand of land between midtown Manhattan and Queens currently home to soccer fields and condos.
The 12-acre development is designed to bolster Silicon Alley’s cred as a global tech center, with the city supplying $100 million in improvements and tech giants like Google and Facebook partnering with Cornell to develop the community. The U.S. Department of Commerce even plans to permanently install a U.S. Patent Office employee on campus, in an effort to head off potential patent wars at the pass.
The 2.1-million-square-foot development–which will include a public hotel and a conference center–won’t be complete until 2037. But on Monday, the school released tentative designs for the campus’s first academic building, slated for opening in 2017, designed by the Thom Mayne-run L.A. studio Morphosis Architects. “Just as Cornell Tech will be pioneering new approaches to graduate research and education, our campus won’t look like any other university campus that exists today,” says Cornell Tech’s dean, Daniel Huttenlocher.
The net-zero building will be completely energy neutral, powered by photovoltaic panels and, potentially, energy generated by turbines in the East River. Morphosis has envisioned an amorphous, kinetic structure where classrooms are almost completely absent: Instead, open space and “break out” rooms encourage open dialogue and collaboration. A cafe and plentiful outdoor space abound, shaded by a massive thatched canopy supporting the PV panels. East- and west-facing windows take advantage of daylighting on the island, as well as the awesome views of Manhattan.
Cornell Tech faces some interesting problems with its plans. With only one bridge connecting Roosevelt Island to the rest of the city, it’s not exactly a transit hub. In August, Senator Chuck Schumer called for the creation of a “nerd bus” (his words!) that could shuttle students between the island and other tech hotspots in the city, like Cooper Square and Brooklyn. Another issue, pointed out by the New York Times, will be getting construction materials to the island. One option would be to ship them via barge, but that’s expensive, and Cornell says they plan to use the roads–which won’t please the thousands of midtown professionals who already live on the island.
Still, it’s by no means the toughest construction challenge New York has ever faced (by far). And Huttenlocher remains upbeat, adding, “We are determined to innovate in every aspect of the development, from the way that students, faculty, researchers, industry, and the local community are intermingled, to the sustainability of our buildings and their iconic architecture.”