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Columbia University Plans West Harlem Development

Rendering of the new Columbia University development which will display 94,000 sq ft of open space
The new Columbia University development will stretch from 129th to 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue, encompassing four large blocks. Community members and students will also be able to enjoy the 94,000 sq ft of open space that is part of the project and could be used for street fairs, art exhibits, and university events. Renzo Piano Workshop

A 17-acre mixed-use academic development under way in New York City by Columbia University will include parklike areas and retail and dining options that will be available to students and the public alike.

March 5, 2013—Columbia University is currently in the process of developing a 17-acre parcel of land located in the part of West Harlem known as Manhattanville. The development of the site—formerly a light industrial area characterized by warehouses, parking lots, and auto repair shops—is focused on open spaces and accessibility and will contain no buildings taller than the ones already there. These seemingly conflicting characteristics—increased capacity and options, along with open squares, wider sidewalks, and limited building heights—are made possible by a certain aspect of the project: an enormous basement level spreading beneath the entire site.

Located less than five blocks from Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus, the 6.8 million sq ft mixed-use academic project stretches from 129th to 133rd streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue, encompassing four large blocks. A nearby space that includes three buildings east of Broadway also will be developed as part of the project. Local business, dining, and retail options will be available in the ground floors of the buildings within the campus. Community members and students will be able to enjoy the 94,000 sq ft of open space that is part of the project, and the space will be available for street fairs, art exhibits, and university events.

The new campus will be an environmentally friendly space conforming to the principles of sustainable development, according to Philip Pitruzzello, the vice president of Manhattanville Development Group, which is overseeing the project for the university. Pitruzzello wrote in response to questions submitted by Civil Engineering online. 

 Exterior rendering of a couple of campus buildings looking west

The full campus, which will include buildings with ground-floor
retail and restaurants that are open to the community, is
anticipated to be completed over the next several decades.
The first phase of the project includes completion of the Jerome
L. Greene Science Center. Renzo Piano Workshop

The U.S. Green Building Council has selected the project for a pilot program within its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) initiative called LEED for Neighborhood Development, which is focused on the integration of smart growth, urbanism, and green construction within development sites.

Key to the development’s designation as an environmentally friendly neighborhood is the basement that will connect all parts of the four-block site belowground. The basement will be formed in part from concrete slurry walls constructed in deep trenches along the perimeter of the site to protect it from Manhattanville’s high water table, and the foundations for the various buildings that will be constructed inside this perimeter.

Because the basement will provide parking, loading docks, and space for shared infrastructure support facilities, the development will be able to maintain the existing street grid, albeit with wider, tree-lined sidewalks that will increase the amount of sunlight admitted to the area. The basement will decrease truck traffic on the surface, maximize the space available for active ground-floor uses, and reduce the noise and emissions produced by delivery trucks and the campus’s central plant. As a pedestrian-friendly zone, the development will also provide access to New York City’s West Harlem Piers Park a waterfront project that also is currently under way.

With such a large development in the works, the trick is to keep one eye squarely on the future, according to Pitruzzello. “We as designers and builders must anticipate future flexibility while meeting the current needs of academic and civic life,” he wrote. “This requires bringing together different disciplines such as urban design, architecture, engineering, and others, as well as enhancing connections between the university and the surrounding community to create a new hub of education and economic opportunity, culture, and community.”

 Exterior rendering of new campus which displays wider sidewalks, limited building heights, and pedestrian-friendly spaces

 The 6.8 million sq ft mixed-use academic campus will be
characterized by wider sidewalks, limited building heights, and
pedestrian-friendly spaces made possible in the tight urban
environment by a contiguous basement that extends beneath the
entire four-block site. Renzo Piano Workshop

Smart growth is important for the university, according to a website it created detailing the Manhattanville project. Columbia has between one-third and one-half less space per student than do such other top universities as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Thus gradual, well-planned expansion is important for the university if it hopes to remain a center for world-class education, research, and patient care, according to the website.

It will be several decades before the campus is complete. The first phase of the project includes the completion of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, and a new home for the Columbia Business School. Later phases will focus on university housing and new spaces for a variety of disciplines, including biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, systems biology, and urban and population studies.

The project is being built via top-down construction methods, and current efforts include demolition work on the surface, the placement of the basement’s slurry walls and foundations, and concurrent soil excavation and structural steel erection for the Jerome L. Greene Science Center.



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