US Building of the Week

Columbia Business School

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, FXCollaborative
1. March 2022
Photo: Iwan Baan

The new two-building home for the Columbia Business School opened at the beginning of this year, marking the completion of phase one of Columbia University's Manhattanville Campus, following a trio of buildings designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. World-Architects got a tour of the buildings designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXCollaborative.

Project: Columbia Business School, 2022
Location: New York, NY, USA
Client: Columbia University
Architects: Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with FXCollaborative 
Sustainability/ LEED Consultant: FXCollaborative
Structural Engineer, Exterior Envelope and Façade Consultant: Arup
Associate Architect (Dedicated Dining, Multi-Function Room): Aaris Design Studios
Landscape Architect: James Corner Field Operations
Lighting Design: Tillotson Design Associates 
Mechanical Engineer: Buro Happold
Construction Manager: Turner Construction 
Acoustics: Cerami & Associates
Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen and Associates 
Civil Engineering: Stantec Consultants
AV: Cerami & Associates, The Clarient Group, Jaffe Holden 
IT: The Clarient Group, Jaros Baum & Bolles
Security: DVS Security Consulting and Engineering
Food Services: Romano Gatland
Cost Consulting: Dharam Consulting
Code: Milrose
Graphics and Wayfinding: Pentagram
Building Area: 492,000 sf
Kravis Hall, East Elevation (Photo: Iwan Baan)

For decades the Columbia Business School occupied the much-derided Uris Hall completed in 1961 (and extended in 1984) on the Columbia University's original Morningside Heights campus. A move to any building would have been a welcome one, but the Columbia Business School has ended up in two purpose-built buildings that are as much about the corridors, stairs, and other spaces between classrooms as they are about the classrooms themselves; they continue the higher-education and workplace trend of embracing the informal learning and spontaneous interactions that happen in such spaces. 

Totaling nearly a half-million square feet, the school's facilities are split into two buildings: Henry R. Kravis Hall and David Geffen Hall, both named for big-money donors and both facing The Square, a large landscaped park designed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm that worked with DS+R on the High Line. The Square and the flanking buildings sit in the center of the full 17-acre masterplanned Manhattanville campus, leading the university to describe the recently completed project as "the heart of the new campus." Though roughly the same size, the pair of buildings are, as described by DS+R partner Charles Renfro at the start of the tour, akin to fraternal twins rather than identical twins. 

Geffen Hall, West Elevation (Photo: Iwan Baan)
Geffen Hall

The tour began in Geffen Hall, which sits to the east of The Square and features the 274-seat Cooperman Commons on its ground floor. The auditorium has glass walls on three sides — two facing the exterior and one facing the lobby — so operable shades were required to cut down on natural light during Renfro's remarks, which ended with them lifting to reveal Kravis Hall across The Square. A strange sort of intimacy came across when sitting in the base of one eight-story building and looking across the one-acre open space to its eleven-story companion; the Columbia Business School is big but it doesn't feel large or overwhelming.

Geffen Hall, Level 1 Cooperman Commons (Photo: Iwan Baan)

The glass wall between the Cooperman Commons and the lobby divides the auditorium steps from the stairs that lead from the lobby to The Network that is described as "the connective tissue of the school." Each building has its own Network, but each one is unique. At Geffen it is a series of straight-run stairs tightly wound around a pair of the building's circular columns. These stairs occupy the center of the western edge of the rectangular plan, facing The Square; a central core with elevators enables an accessible route up and down the building. Classrooms, office, and multipurpose rooms are arranged along the other three elevations, with the largest classrooms occupying the corners, where columns are set back to allow expansive panoramic views through subtly fritted panes.

Geffen Hall Network, from Level 4 (Photo: Iwan Baan)

The defining character of Geffen Hall is defined by the alternating floor plates, which create cantilevered volumes at the two corners facing The Square. Trapezoidal floor plans with angled facades facing west enable this alternating rhythm justified by the provision of classrooms and administrative spaces in the building. Inside, the stairs are angled to follow these facades, meaning that the Network has a dynamic quality that comes from the stairs being intertwined rather than stacked. Furthermore, the rooms overlooking the stairs are behind glass walls, which adds to the dynamic quality of The Network, helps bring natural light deep into the building, and reinforces the Business School's desire to spur the informal interactions that take place when moving through the building.

Geffen Hall Network, Level 6 Study Lounge (Photo: Iwan Baan)
Kravis Hall

With its alternating clear and fritted floors, the eleven-story Kravis Hall is the more striking twin, expressing the distinction between spaces for faculty and those for students. Simply put, the classrooms sit behind clear glass walls, while faculty offices are found behind the relatively opaque facades. The difference between the floors is accentuated by the rectangular faculty floors overhanging the undulating classroom floors, which sensibly provides shading from the sun during the warmer months when the sun is overhead. On the east Square-facing elevation, the fritted faculty floors break in the center, expressing Kravis Hall's own vertical Network.

Kravis Hall, Level 1 Samberg Commons (Photo: Iwan Baan)

Similar to Geffen Hall, Kravis Hall has a large gathering space on its ground floor: Samberg Commons can accommodate 200 people. Open to the lobby, this commons is clearly less prescriptive than Cooperman, with cushioned seating areas making it more of a hangout space than a formal event space. Walking up the steps of the Commons leads to a large area with tables and chairs looking on to the Hudson River and the start of The Network. Although it works similarly to the one in Geffen Hall, the spatial character of Kravis Hall's Network is considerably different, due in large part to the GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) surfaces of the facade continuing as undulating GFRG (Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum) surfaces inside. 

Kravis Hall, Level 9 Student Network (Photo: Iwan Baan)

The even-numbered classroom floors feature lounges adjacent to the stairs and classrooms at the corners (including some with dramatic views of the viaduct that sits between the campus and the Hudson River), while the odd-numbered faculty floors are less open but still inviting, with glass walls and doors leading to the offices. Even though a separate network of faculty stairs is provided at the remote western end of the building, Renfro explained that the faculty floors are not meant to be exclusive; the school wants students to feel welcome throughout the building, even using the faculty stairs to move up and down parts of the building. Topping the building is a large dining room with access to a terrace for events.

Kravis Hall, 74-person Classroom with view to Riverside Drive Viaduct (Photo: Iwan Baan)
The Square

As laid out, the Manhattanville Campus is meant to be the antithesis of Columbia University's Morningside Campus: transparent and accessible instead of walled-off and exclusive. The two buildings of the Columbia Business School follow the masterplan by Renzo Piano Building Workshop that dictates primarily transparent ground floors with public functions, enabled by services fitted into an extensive campus-spanning basements beneath street level. Two new ground-floor retail spaces, plus a community space on the second floor of Geffen Hall, continue the provision of such spaces in the earlier RPBW buildings of the campus's first phase

Kravis Hall, East Elevation (Photo: Iwan Baan)

Yet, outside of the art gallery and performance spaces in the Lenfest Center or the Arts, most of the Manhattanville Campus above street level is private, exclusive, using security and technology rather than walls and gates to limit access. This condition is hardly surprising in 21st-century America, but it makes this writer think that the most important element of the Columbia Business School is actually the space between its two buildings. The Square, with a circular ring of grass and four "active corners" (Stage Corner, Meet Corner, Art Corner, Water Corner), is a publicly accessible, 24-hour-a-day green space that is also the most generous "gift" from Columbia to the West Harlem neighborhood where the campus is located. But it remains to be seen if it will be used as a truly public space by many different people, or if it will be just an outdoor extension of the Business School, a social condenser for its thousands of students. On the cold and windy February day when World-Architects got a tour, it was far too early to tell.

Text by John Hill.

Geffen Hall, West Elevation (Photo: Iwan Baan)

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