Since Academic Building I is the first completed building of the College’s Master Plan, it was important to create opportunities for future campus growth while fulfilling the College’s current…
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
Since Academic Building I is the first completed building of the College’s Master Plan, it was important to create opportunities for future campus growth while fulfilling the College’s current space needs. The Design Team, along with CUNY and the College, selected appropriate program elements for Academic Building I and defined the distribution of the remaining campus programs, identifying future space needs and exploring how to provide for coherence and order on this urban campus as it continues to grow.
Prior to the building’s construction, student interaction was confined to classrooms: there was no defined central gathering place. The challenge was to create a centerpiece of the still-expanding campus, a physical and visual campus entry in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on what was formerly the site of a New York City Sanitation Department garage.
This new facility, which houses the School of Science, Health and Technology, in addition to providing much-needed classroom space to accommodate the College’s growing student population, was tasked with opening campus activities to the community at large. The floor-to-ceiling glass pavilion on the east corner of the site emphasizes the project’s goal of transparency and community inclusion. The architecture was designed to bring everyone together; interior glass-enclosed access stairs connect the floors and encourage the interdisciplinary mingling that enriches the educational experience.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
What we create has always been rooted in how we work: collaboratively, connecting with clients for the benefit of their communities and the public realm. I would say that the role of the architect is not changing, necessarily, but is certainly continuing to evolve into an increasingly collaborative role. We count ourselves fortunate to have institutional clients that understand and appreciate the value of such a relationship, and that embrace the latest developments with respect to technology and sustainability. It is through meaningful dialogue that we continue to create an adaptive, passionate working environment and craft innovative, compelling, sustainable solutions.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
First of all, the multifaceted glass curtain wall was constructed in a way that took advantage of the latest technological advancements and state-of-the-art product design. The custom design and fabrication required for the complex glass enclosure hinged on the deft application of a series of structural steel tubes in place of aluminum mullions. We wanted the curtain wall to be as open and as transparent as possible and therefore needed to handle a bit of tricky geometry, using a steel support in each place where you would typically have a mullion. By using the steel structure for the curtain wall and holding the glass off of that steel structure, all the geometry, all the trickiness, suddenly became easier. The choice of steel not only met our design needs, but also those of the client with respect to deadline and budget.
In addition, trends both in technology and education directed our design process. Technological advancements have redefined the exacting functional requirements demanded by today’s state-of-the-art lab facilities. Creating column-free spaces required for teaching labs presented a challenge not only for the present, but for the future as well, as educational institutions today also increasingly desire flexible, rather than fixed spaces. Laboratories are perhaps best constructed with steel because of changes that may come up down the road. The thirteen teaching labs are designed for maximum flexibility so they can be used for several different subjects throughout the academic year.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
Architecture is a living testament to the communal effort. My hope is that the students, faculty, administrators, and visitors who walk through the doors of the new Science, Health and Technology Building will find others of like mind. I see educational leaders today increasingly focused on providing opportunities for the intermingling of cross-disciplinary classes and potential avenues for collaboration and exchange. The architecture of this building was designed to bring everyone together. Its glass façade connects students and community, providing views out and allowing passersby to witness the activity within. The cafeteria on the second floor of the pavilion provides the entire College and community a light filled, open space for students and faculty to interact between classes and, in off hours, a meeting space for various community activities. Often times in a multi-storied building you just lives in a slice on a floor, unaware that you are part of a larger community. Commonly relegated to secondary structural roles and confined to enclosures, the building’s open feature stairs appear to float like bridges between the floors, further emphasizing the goal of transparency. They link the whole building together in such a way that you can see people moving through this big volume all the way up the building. It is part psychological and part circulation, but you’re aware that you’re a part of this bigger academic community. Our goal was to promote academic and intellectual exchange in a setting that enhances the teaching and learning experience and furthers the School’s mission to provide an environment for students to obtain a high quality, career-oriented undergraduate science education.