Academic Campus as City Engine
Our New York office recently held an exchange of ideas on the concept of ‘The Academic Campus as City Engine’. With academic research facilities and knowledge-based campuses leading the next wave of higher education campus planning, a range of key industry figures attended to discuss the topic.
In New York City, institutions such as Cornell Tech, Columbia University and New York University are at the forefront of this movement, investing billions of dollars in new campus facilities with the aim to attract and retain top-level talent in the City. These projects are expected to catalyze exceptional economic opportunities, from the expansion of leading tech companies to the revitalization of entire neighborhoods.
To speak more about the trends and challenges affecting higher education campus planning in New York City, BuroHappold Engineering hosted a panel discussion. Called “An Exchange of Ideas: The Academic Campus as City Engine,” panelists included Andrew Winters, Director of Capital Projects and Planning at Cornell Tech, Jason Smith, Partner at KieranTimberlake, an architecture and planning firm that is currently working on the New York University campus, and Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President, Government & Community Affairs & Special Advisor for Campus Planning at Columbia University.
Speaking about Cornell Tech, NYU and Columbia, the panelists presented different scenarios of campus planning and growth happening in New York City. The campuses represent different circumstances – Columbia University in Manhattanville (an extension of a campus); Cornell Tech (a new campus on Roosevelt Island); NYU (a campus nestled in the thriving and tightly packed Greenwich Village neighborhood growing within limited space) – yet all are tapping into the same trend. The economy and higher education sector are becoming tightly intertwined in New York, and in cities around the country, where the university is seen as a catalyst for the local economy. This is done by creating growth in certain sectors, including the creation of local jobs, space for public amenities, and a local workforce for particular industries.
For Cornell Tech, Winters described the University’s unique and targeted situation. The institution saw an opportunity to grow in New York City based on research the City had done where they found a lack of engineers staying in the tech industry in New York. To remedy this, Cornell, along with the City, began planning for the new campus on Roosevelt Island, with the first phase expected to open in fall 2017. The project is a very specific and targeted response in terms of growing New York’s economy by looking to do so with a specific industry.
“The Cornell Tech project itself is not a Cornell University satellite campus in New York City,” said Winters.
Winters went on to say that instead, the campus is meant to fit into a targeted space within New York City’s economic climate while also filling a void in the academic world. Providing a research graduate facility would align with the City’s long term strategy to provide both more academic infrastructure for a research and technology driven economy as well as a workforce to support this sort of economy.
“The city came to the conclusion that a research university that would have one foot in the academic world and one foot in the business world would be a winning strategy for growing the economy,” Winters said.
There is an urban moment happening right now. A lot of universities are seeing an opportunity, to develop very targeted types of programs that are specifically tied to what’s happening in the economy of a particular city. This is the future, the connection between the university and city and the economy.
Andrew Winters, director of capital projects and planning at Cornell Tech
For Columbia University, Griffith described Columbia’s campus as much more ingrained in the neighborhood, Manhattan’s Morningside Heights on the Upper
West Side. When the University was faced with a physical need for more space, the leadership had to make sure an expansion would respect the distinctive and historic campus while also respecting and integrating with the neighborhood. They were also very adamant that an expansion could not exist outside of their NYC neighborhood.
“There was a suggestion of Jersey, Connecticut, and Brooklyn,” Griffith said, “and the determination was that there was something about Columbia that has the feel of upper Manhattan and we wanted to stay in our home.”
The University decided to invest in a 17-acre campus expansion plan that begins at the northern perimeter of the existing campus and extends deeper into the Morningside Heights neighborhood, preserving the campus’ character.
Involved in NYU’s mixed-use development on Mercer Street, Smith told audience members that the downtown campus is facing a lack of space and the necessity of fitting many university services into a new development. In being located in the middle of a vibrant community, Smith emphasized that the building is also charged with serving the community beyond NYU and creating a central node for both the institution and community.
“I think that most of the leadership at NYU sees [our new building] as a locus around hot spots of activity,” said Smith. “And unlike these other campus expansions, it’s a single uniform building.”
Smith said that the building provides an allure by not only serving the needs of a growing campus but by also providing an amenity to the community by having a robust arts program housed in a facility that is open to the public.
The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A from the audience, ranging from questions about how to create and retain a sense a community around campuses, especially in a city as expensive as New York, to questions on the role of branding for universities. In the end it was clear how the university is not only in the city, but is becoming the city.