Cornell Tech: The Campus Tour

Two years after breaking ground, Cornell Tech’s Dean Huttenlocher and its senior director of capital projects, Andrew Winters, welcomed members of the media past the security turnstiles for a campus tour of the Bloomberg building, the Bridge building, and the House.

Photos by Irina Island Images

The Bloomberg Center

The Bloomberg Center, named for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughters, Emma and Georgina, houses research, teaching, and meeting space for graduate-level students and faculty. On its ground floor is the Café, open to the community.

There are few walls in the building, to inspire collaboration and provide opportunities for learning and discovery. And when they exist, they’re often transparent. According to Bloomberg, it is the only university in the world without private offices for professors. “That is a feature, not a bug,” he quipped.

The metal façade of the four story Bloomberg Center incorporates a pattern created with an algorithm with an image of the New York City skyline on the west side, and Ithaca gorge, where Cornell is based, on the east side.

In its basement, a geothermal heating and cooling system connects to 80 wells reducing the need for electricity. A 40,000-gallon underground tank collects rainwater for use in plumbing, cooling and irrigation systems.

The plan is for the building to reach Net Zero status, with all of the energy needed to power the building generated on campus. The campus is employing multiple strategies to achieve that goal – including solar power, geothermal ground source heat pumps, and decrease energy demand, and smart building features monitoring lighting and plug load use.

Huttenlocher characterizes Net Zero as an aspiration, and said “you have to live it to determine whether you’ve achieved it.”

He said, “We will measure it as we go,” He believes that the data will educate students of the impact they have, and how their choices can impact energy systems.

Inside, Bloomberg Center boasts a mostly open plan. Huttenlocher said, “We really tried to make things so people have visual sight lines that connect people across the multiple floors, with some degree of acoustic separation; we can see each other, but we don’t have to listen to one another.”

“We commissioned artworks as part of the development of the buildings,” said Huttenlocher, and German artist Michael Riedel’s “Cornell Tech Mag” graces the ceiling and tabletops of the ground floor. The philosophy was not to have gallery space, but to incorporate art as part of day-to-day life.

The Bridge

Across the way from the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, Cornell’s corporate co-location building was conceived to connect—or “bridge”—the gap between academia and industry leaders. The Ed Koch 59th Street Bridge is also reflected on the outside of the building.

Commercial realtor, Forest City Ratner, owns and developed the seven-story, 200,000-square-feet building. The plan is for Cornell Tech to occupy one third of the building, with a mix of startups and larger companies in the rest. So far, investment firm Two Sigma, global bank Citigroup, and chocolatier Ferrero have signed on.

“City land being used for education and innovation helps drive economic development in the city,” said Huttenlocher.

Inside, the multiple loft-like space houses research lab space, master’s lab space, a makerLAB, start-up spaces, large commercial space, and two vacant parcels on the ground floor for retail.

According to Huttenlocher, the large lobby was designed to mix all of those different uses together, and there is a wide central staircase with spaces to stop and chat.

“I challenge you to find a building in the five boroughs that has a view like this,” said Huttenlocher. “One of the design aspects of this building, because of Roosevelt Island’s narrowness, the siting of the building allowed the architect to take advantage of a river-to-river experience.”

Facing the Queens side, there are three studio teaching spaces on the first floor. The first is marked by its red carpet. Those rooms house teams of students from disciplines including business, law, design and tech, working together to develop digital products and services. Industry practitioners are brought in and students develop, present, and prototype their solutions before getting critiqued by outside experts.

The House

North of the The Bridge stands The House, developed in partnership with the Hudson Companies. The House is the first high-rise residential building in the world built to passive house standards, a standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. Designed by New York City-based Handel Architects LLP, it is the tallest building on Cornell Tech’s campus.

To achieve passive house standards, Winters explained that the windows are triple paned, and strategically placed. Additionally, they are horizontally rather than vertically oriented, for more light spread. He said the walls are 12 inches thick and, together with the windows, they create “a highly insulated envelope for the building, limiting the amount of heat and cooling from the outside to effectively zero.”

Huttenlocher characterized the 300 house dwellers as living in a “24/7 live-work environment.”

He said that there is a student priority for the residence but that the top couple of floors were reserved for faculty and researchers.

Students play a part in the sustainability mission, and all utilities, besides electricity, are included in their rent bill. In explaining that decision, Winters said, “If you’re using electricity, you need to know how much you’re using.”

Not only are the windows small to reduce energy use, but so is the size of every unit in the building. “Students’ units themselves are smaller than a standard apartment,” said Winters. “To compensate, we have marvelous public spaces.” The lobby is large and has many nooks for impromptu chats. The 26th floor is the amenity floor and there is a formal indoor space with views even Islanders who are used to good views would consider breathtaking. There is an outdoor roof deck with barbecues and more views.

Of the space breakdown Winters said, “It works for sustainability purposes, and the use of the space. Students have a private experience in rooms, but there are a series of public spaces.”

“Cornell Tech eventually will be a two billion dolllar project, but that’s what it requires to make a statement in this marketplace, and that is the New York way,” Cuomo said at the dedication.

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