Columbia University plans to open new campus next spring

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Columbia University on Monday dedicated one of the most ambitious architectural projects in the academic world: the $6.3 billion expansion of its Manhattan campus.

On the Ivy League university’s 17 new acres in West Harlem, “there will be countless interactions with our neighbours in the surrounding communities, from educational offerings to health centres to artistic engagements and beyond,” Columbia President Lee Bollinger told assembled faculty, Harlem residents and city officials.

The ceremony was staged in front of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, the first building to be completed on the expanding campus.

It marks Columbia’s visible victory in its court battles for the land over more than a dozen years.

New York’s highest court ruled in 2010 that the state could seize some of the property under eminent domain after its chief economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corp., deemed the area blighted. The university bought the rest of the parcels from private owners.

Italian architect Renzo Piano, of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, designed the master plan for the entire acreage with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“This is exactly the day I wanted for today: sunny, breezy, fresh, crisp,” Renzo told the assembled faculty and other officials. “Fresh air, that’s what we need.”

The centre, a 450,000-square-foot edifice featuring exposed steel beams, replaces a defunct industrial site. It will be fully functional by next spring.

It will house the neuroscience research laboratories of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, named after the publisher. In addition, a community wellness centre and education laboratory will link the building with Harlem residents.

Surrounding landscaping is still in the works, and Columbia promised it would be “woven into the existing street grid with no walls or gates,” unlike the university’s historic main campus, just south of the expansion site.

The Manhattanville Campus, named after the neighbourhood’s original name, sits between the elevated No. 1 subway train tracks and the Hudson River.

Also opening by spring as part of the Manhattanville Campus is the Lenfest Center for the Arts. After that will come the University Forum and Academic Conference Center, to open in 2018, and the new home of Columbia’s business school, in 2021.

The remaining buildings are to rise in the next two decades, to be planned based on academic needs.

Bollinger said two “are in advanced stages of dreaming, one focusing on world issues and the other on new areas of exciting discovery in engineering and data science.”

The Manhattanville plans have won the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest distinction for sustainability and have been praised for helping neighbourhood development.