Cornell Tech Campus Rising Fast

by Sara Metzidakis

Cornell Tech gave representatives of area media their first construction site tour this week.

Construction is well under way on the Phase 1 buildings. The campus has been raised nine feet above street level with all buildings opening into the center of the campus as a precaution against flooding. At that level, they are set to withstand a 500-year flood.

The campus is 12.5 acres designed to be open to the public with over 20% of the space to be available for public use. Andrew Winters, Director of Capital Projects and Planning, says ”our goal is to reach out to people and have this campus be accessible with open space that connects people together – no walls, no gates, no barriers.” A 50-foot wide “tech walk” will run diagonally across the campus. An open green space will provide for art events and festivals. A cafe will be open to the public. There’s a promise of educational opportunities for students and seniors on the Island.

The three buildings scheduled to be open by summer of 2017 are the first academic building, now named the Bloomberg Center; the Bridge, a co-location building where the academic and entrepreneurial worlds will meet; and a 30-story residential building where the top two floors will be reserved for faculty housing. An executive education center and hotel will arrive in the future.

Bloomberg Center

The Bloomberg Center, named in honor of Emma and Georgina Bloomberg, is the main academic building where students and faculty will collaborate across disciplines. It is a four story, 160,000 square foot building, designed to support the idea that innovation is a collective enterprise, according to the press package supplied by Cornell Tech’s PR firm. In addition to work studios and spaces for professors and students, the building will house an auditorium (which will be available for public events) and a cafe opening onto a ¾-acre lawn. Winters says that wireless access is being explored for the future.

The building, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, is to be sustainable, providing nearly all its own power. There will be solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems as well as reduced-flow water fixtures. A 40,000 gallon stormwater tank will be buried under the lawn, and another 30,000 gallon rain tank will be placed on the roof.

Construction of the center started in March 2014, and the steel structure will be completed by the end of this year, with façade and enclosure to start in early 2016.

In addition to the plans for net zero energy efficiency, the building will pay respect to the inspiration of the arts. Art will be displayed throughout the building. Among the installations will be a WPA mural recovered from Goldwater Hospital.

The Bridge

Kate Bricknell, Vice President of commercial and residential development at Forest City Ratner companies, defines the Cornell Tech mission as the bringing together of academic and industry people to bring new technologies and products to market. “The Bridge is the physical manifestation of that mission,” she says. Tech companies and researchers work in the same building, where it is easy to collaborate, and where established tech companies and university researchers will have many opportunities to interact whether on projects or in more casual encounters. Students will have the opportunity to understand the New York City corporate world, develop cutting edge technology, or launch their own startups.

Designed by Weiss/Manfredi and developed with Forest city, the Bridge is also built to LEED standards for sustainability. The building will have a glass facade with river-to-river views of Manhattan, providing abundant natural light. There will also be solar panels on the roof. Winters says the building will be finished in early 2016.

Residential Building

Rising 270 feet into the sky, the 26-story residential building, designed by Handel Architects, is to be built to the highest standards of energy efficiency in the world. According to David Kramer, president of the Hudson Companies, the residence will be the largest passive energy structure ever built. “It is a real step forward for energy efficiency.” The 500 beds will furnish various layouts from studios to shared three bedrooms. The top two floors will be reserved for faculty and staff.

Construction was begun in June 2015 with the fourth floor poured today. Kramer says if an additional two or more floors are completed every week as planned, the building will be finished by the winter of 2016.

Winters mentions that ferry service is projected to start in the summer of 2017, a coincidence that very much pleases him. The ferry will depart from the east side of the campus, close to the residential building.

Recent History

Winters explained that the $750 million undertaking started with the demolition of Goldwater Hospital in January, 2013, and took 18 months to accomplish. That left the 12.5-acre site ready for the new campus. Winters says that by overlapping planning and design phases, time to construction was cut by a full year.

The process involves replacing all the roadways east and west of the site as well as replacing the utilities, which will be returned to public and private management when the work is complete.

According to Winters, 100% of demolition debris was barged off the Island in containers or ground up and used to raise the level of the campus eight or nine feet as protection against 500-year floods. In the construction phase, a spud barge and a 60-foot bridge allow delivery of trailer-loads of construction materials. Winters estimates that the barging has kept 1,200 truck trips off Main Street.

As noted by Winters, when the project was awarded to Cornell University, back in late 2011, one of the commitments that Cornell made was to have the campus open in 2017, but to start hiring faculty and start bringing graduate students to New York City well before that. The result? There are currently about 140 students in master’s degree programs. Some 300 master’s students and 260 PhD students are expected to be enrolled by fall, 2017, when Phase 1 of the development is finished. Faculty and staff, funded researchers, and industry personnel will bring the number to 1,500.

Ultimately, half the students and a smaller percentage of the faculty and staff will be in residence on Roosevelt Island. Fifteen hundred people will arrive on campus after the first phase is completed, rising to a total of 2,500 by 2038, when construction is to be complete.

Tags: Cornell construction Sara Metzidakis

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