The Mother Ship Has Landed

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It won’t be completed during the studies of any current Columbia undergrad, but the lucky prefrosh admitted to the Class of 2011 will, at least, be able to feast their eyes on this sight by their senior year. Behold, the José Rafael Moneo-designed Northwest Science Building, to be constructed over the erstwhile tennis courts between Havemeyer and Pupin: the rendering at right, among others, was recently placed on the University’s construction updates site, allowing for an early sneak peak.

Bwog isn’t a stickler for traditionalist architecture, but we wonder what happened to Moneo’s “extreme sensitivity to context,” a factor PrezBo highlighted when the designer was selected to help fill this key gap in McKim, Mead, & White’s historic plan. And even if a little architectural pizazz is what this part of campus needs, one wonders at the scale of a structure that overwhelms even prodigious Pupin. Of course, the architect faced significant challenges while designing the structure – building over the gym, insulating labs from the subway, and dealing with the drop-off between the campus and the street. And at least we know now that construction of the building won’t, in fact, close Dodge. Still, we’re sure at least some are bound to think that Barnard’s Nexus will have some Columbia competition for “ugliest building on Broadway” when the next decade dawns. More renderings, after the jump…


From Broadway:

Current view:

From the Barnard gates outside Millbank:


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  1. so....

    ... what's going to go in there? a library? a bar? classes? offices?

  2. what??  

    so this is being built completely on top of the gym? that sounds like a bad idea. I mean the roof of the gym seems strongish, but it doesn't seem like it can support a huge tower on top of it.

  3. answers  

    1. it's going to be almost entirely labs and classrooms. I think there will also be a new science and engineering library. check the linked spec articles.

    2. the gym was, in fact, built around massive columns intended to support such a structure in the future.

  4. joe  

    They should really expand the gym up into this new building a few floors, it is so cramped in there.

    • indeed  

      in 1993, the athletics department proposed a "tower of sports" for the site, but it was tied up in the bureaucracy in an effort to kill it softly, I believe.

      according to one of the articles linked above, the sports tower was "designed to hold a teaching swimming pool, racquetball courts, and an international squash court."

    • gym  

      All I have to say is YES! to expanding the gym. I'm tired of waiting around for my 30 minute interval on the treadmill. I couldn't care less what the actual building looks like so long as it means a better gym. But that's just me, I suppose.

  5. arch. major  

    McKim, Mead & White will roll over in their graves once this building is erected. This new addition makes Uris look like the Pantheon. What was Moneo thinking?

    Maybe something like, "how to design the ugliest building on one of the most beautiful campuses in America."

    f**ck me hard. this blows.

  6. Yeesh...  

    I’m one of the few people who actually like Lerner’s looks, but this certainly looks like it has the potential to be the “ugliest building on Broadway.” How tall is it supposed to be? It looks so out of place...almost as if someone had been playing a version of SimCity with an already-built New York City and decided to grab a random building from a “25th century” category, then just plunk it down on top of the tennis courts.

  7. well  

    in response to previous posters' questions:

    "what's going to go in there? a library? a bar? classes? offices?"

    the 188,000 square foot building will house science and engineering labs and classrooms along with faculty and administrative offices. The street level floors are tentatively being reserved for a lounge, a new dining establishment, and possibly a new entrance to the gym.

    "so this is being built completely on top of the gym?"
    "2. the gym was, in fact, built around massive columns intended to support such a structure in the future."

    Actually not. The Northwest Science building is being cantilevered over the fitness center and will be supported by weight-bearing columns placed between the fitness center and Chandler. One of the main technical hurdles the design team had to overcome was the need to not put ANY weight on Dodge and still allow it to remain open.

    Interesting tidbit: the new building is going to be connected to chandler and pupin by a series of pedestrian bridges, much like the ones found between pupin, cepsr, and mudd.

    • cantilevered  

      over the gym? where is there room to put columns to support the gym between chandler and dodge? or will they be demolishing that little roadway between the two.

      architecturally this sound a bit nuts.

  8. Forget Matthew Fox,  

    how do we protest this atrocity?

  9. oh dear

    I'm sure a there was much consideration of making the building consistent with campus architecture, so I wonder what the problems were. Perhaps this building will be less expensive, sturdier, lighter, provide better light and insulation, etc... etc... But still, it will be sad if it turns out to really spoil the campus look.

    • well  

      in an attempt to follow the Nexus, the Northwest science building is going to try to attain LEED certification, the first building on campus to do so from its design.

      One of the easiest ways to make a building more green is to have it naturally lit and ventilated. Increased window space is the easiest way to do so.

      And frankly, I don't think Columbians could be happy with any one design. A traditional design would be just as equally criticized for not reflecting current trends in architecture as well as not being as environmentally friendly as modern designs would allow.

  10. Oedipal Archie


  11. ummm

    i've never heard anyone on columbia's campus complain that a building didn't "reflect current trends in architecture".

    • well  

      that's because we've never had an architect design a building that didn't.

      and #20: I'm not exactly sure where they are putting the support columns, but when i spoke to the Dean of the Civil Engineering department about the project, he said there could be weight-bearing columns between the two buildings and no weight of the new building would be supported by the gym.

  12. WHY

    is the lobby 3 floors below pupin plaza?

  13. hey!  

    what about the tennis courts?

    • weren't  

      they going to be moved to the roof of the new building?

      • ???

        Would that work? It seems like that would be a gigantic nightmare.

        Also, I think Uris is actually a pretty OK building. I guess it's just me... that said, this does look kinda ugly. You know when even the *renderings* suck that the building is trouble. But whatever, I'll be long gone...

  14. Bernhard von Bulow  

    I can only hope that after constructing this building, President Lee Bollinger turns to the student body and, in a moment straight out of Arrested Development, admits, "I've made a huge mistake."

  15. wirc  

    I actually really like the tower part of Uris, since it has a clever reflection of Low and other buildings around it, unlike the CSEPR, which is a poorly-decorated box. But damn, this mother is ugly.

    Let's hope these are early renderings; things rarely stay this extreme through design development.

  16. rjt  

    I personally believe that everything built more than twenty years ago now totally blows because even if it did then, it no longer reflects current trends in modern architecture.

  17. CML  

    How can this be the ugliest building on Broadway with that hideous concrete office tower in the middle of Barnard besmirching the skyline? I don't even know what it's called. Maybe "Altschul"?

    I don't at all understand why we don't stick to the pretty Neoclassical architecture. Everything else on campus minus Butler (Carman, EC, CEPSR) gives off such a hardcore-utilitarian, function over aesthetics vibe, with the exception of Lerner, which is just hideous and pretentious.

    I say we knock down everything that doesn't look like Hamilton and start over again.

  18. still  

    what about tennis courts for the next four years?

  19. Raphael  

    It looks like the sort of thing that evil terminators would use as a base from which to attack New York.

    It probably won't out-Altschul Altschul for pure atrocity. (Altschul is a perfect analogue--in building form--of a dog turd). But these days Columbia/Barnard has no excuse. We have $6 billion of endowment, and we are all set to have much more money in 10 years. Why do we need to flagellate the aesthetic sensibilities of the thousands of Columbians who will grace our campus in future years? Why can't anyone who has power grasp the beauty of the original Neo-Classical plan for the campus. The key to that plan, in my view, is its immersiveness. On College Walk, one leaves the bustle of Broadway or Amsterdam and finds oneself surrounding by kraters, Ionic columns, elegant engraving, and gorgeous dark red bricks. The Columbia Campus is not just a collection of fine buildings, but an experience, an atmosphere, a spectacle.

    Columbia is not MIT. Their Stata Center is both awesome and befitting of a school renowned for brilliant, pioneering research in the sciences and engineering. But Columbia is not about AI and linguistics. Columbia is about something different, something which our McKim, Mead, & White campus celebrates and exhibits.

    • don't  

      sell us short buddy. columbia is actually "renowned for brilliant, pioneering research in the sciences and engineering"
      that said from the few renderings ive seen the new building is horrible.
      but i like lerner. back off of lerner.

    • Arch  

      Actually, it's a science building so, AI isn't far off.

      Anyhow, Lerner is definitely ugly, but much of the reason Lerner is ugly is because the architect tried to "integrate" it with the current campus with his use of bricks, the roof, etc. CEPSR is equally ugly, and there's really not that much in common between Pupin, Mudd Uris and Hamilton anyway. The buildings towards the Engineering side of campus are definitely different from the McKim ones on the Southern half.

      • eh?  

        the two buildings this is being built between, pupin and havemeyer, are both mckim structures; they're not limited to the southern half of campus. and god forbid we start arguing for architecture to "fit in" with the likes of mudd and uris - aberrations that should be excised as soon as possible. if only the b-school's relocation to manhattanville would allow for this, in the former case, at least.

  20. earthlings  

    all your tennis courts are belong to us.

  21. catz:

    im in ur campus, fuckin up the architectual vibez

  22. *sigh*

    This is business as usual at Columbia, architecturally speaking.


  23. It looks like  

    ...a prison. I can't imagine going to a more oppressive-looking building each and every day. Architects really do live in a different world from everybody else.

    • a prison?  

      have you ever seen a prison? they have no windows. from the looks of it, the campus side is almost completely glass. i'd be more afraid for birds flying into the building.

  24. why  

    why oh why? why does columbia always feel the need to screw its beautiful campus up with gaudy glass monstrosities? here's some news, columbia: the world doesn't care if you have the flashiest shitshow building of the moment--because a few years later, it'll be passe and probably downright ugly. need proof? lerner, uris, IAB, EC come to mind.

  25. wirc  

    Everything that has been planned for that area has been ugly. Look at the plans from the 20s! Stupid, goofy towers with classical forms dropped on for "fitting in." Fitting in is about picking a good counterpoint or identical materials and matching proportions. The actual look of the building is not that important.

    Uris not a bad building, but Pupin, Chandler, and John Jay are hideous, distorted forms that should really be torn down. Their proportions are all wrong, and they look like cheap crap. McKim was dead when they built them, and it shows.

    Why do all of you insist on living in the past and slapping decoration on the buildings? The cost of getting limestone or a decent carver is insanely high, and what you get when you go "traditional" is Amsterdam House, or the CSEPR, both some of the ugliest buildings ever, and conceptually malignant.

    • lies  

      just because columbia and other local institutions are often cheap doesn't mean they have to be in the future. harvard business school's new student center looks as if it were built in the 18th century, but was in fact erected not too long ago - it simply took the time to give some attention to detail. at a greater cost? perhaps. but the administrators are talking about making the NWS building "last 100 years," and we've seen how poorly the likes of uris have made it, oh, only 40 thus far. whatever one thinks of its proportion (I find it ungainly fat) or design (how can you not find it cheap? look at the crap on the roof, for one) it's clearly rusting and rotting to shit. the difference between the older and newer buildings on campus is that the former actually look better weathered, and weathering is inevitable.

      • wirc  

        No. The HBS campus looks good because of details and precision. To me, it looks like it was built recently, but pretending otherwise, because I know it was. People who find that buildings have "aged" usually know when it was built, and assume that. The sheer omnipresence of "classicism" is the only reason why it doesn't look stilted and dated. Things that look dated can be beautiful, though. Think of the Baroque and Gothic styles. Dated / Gorgeous.

        And why would you want it to look like it was built years ago? For that same attention to detail, you could have built a modern building that would have looked just as good.

        It's not the future. It's now. Stop being so weak that you have to live in the past to find some meaning, and maybe actually bother to learn something about architecture instead of pretending that you are the supreme fucking judge of beauty.

    • uhh  

      it's called a long-term investment in the campus and in the school. if columbia wants to be a big, prestigious university to last for the ages, it should start acting like one. part of that means not chasing after every shiny architectural bauble that catches its eye.

  26. wow  

    did anyone else notice how the spectator removed the online article about the censure letters from the front of their website? the story is on the front page of the print version and up until two hours ago it was in the front of the electronic version.

    administration didnt like it maybe?

  27. uhhhhh  

    Like someone said earlier, this is preliminary stuff. We don't know if this is the final form at all. The Moneo stuff I've seen is a lot nicer than this carbuncle.

  28. wirc  

    Oh, so should we chastise Oxford for building Gothic in the 1400s? As I recall, that was a bubble that was hated by people only 100 years later.

    Tastes change, bubs.

  29. Alum 03

    This proposal makes me want to weep.

  30. Wow  

    Lerner, however impractically designed, is at least, on some level, architecturally interesting and intellectually defensible. This is a monstrosity.

  31. Secret Lerner Stairs  

    I hope this building is made of all ramps. They're so efficient and lovely to look at.

  32. Wow  

    Those images are of really poor resolution. Maybe thats contributing to the hideousness?

  33. another '03 alum

    This is just awful! Why does Columbia make such dumb choices? They should wait and put something like this in Manhattanville, where it might look more appropriate. I'd hate to see how many more ugly towers they'd throw up on campus if the Manhattanville expansion doesn't go through.

    Even Pupin looks quite dominating at times...this makes Pupin look small and charming. And trust me, the architectural rendering makes this building look a lot "lighter" than it will actually be.

  34. starchitect  

    keep in mind that this is an exterior elevation of the building. it says nothing about the experience of walking through it or looking out from it or the light that will filter in. and the building may seem garish from the renderings, but typically budget constraints force even starchitects like Moneo to tone down and streamline their work. I also think people are forgetting that building up the campus vertically reduces the need for us to expand into manhattanville. I believe a few decades ago Columbia approached I.M. Pei with the idea of building two skyscrapers right on the lawn in front of butler. At least this building is in a slightly less intrusive, and never terribly pretty area of campus.

  35. UTS

    But what about the pretty view of Union and Riverside that this building will block?

    This does not reduce the need to move into Manhattanville, it only ensures that both the main campus and Manhattanville will be filled with towers that will be considered ugly by some today, and everyone in 20 years.

    Just look at that Spec article about how unhappy the SIPA students are about their space in IAB. Compare Uris with Harvard Business School or UVA's business school campus.

  36. archie

    maybe they're just trying to keep up with ugly trends at other campuses, e.g., from this archie article:

  37. Anonymous

    So it seems like most people here hate this building. I hate traditional architecture. It's not like there aren't enough red fucking brick in this city. It's about time that campus was replaced anyway. It's so old. Don't you kids want something exciting and cool? Something made of steel and glass that lights up? When did you all get so conservative? Moneo kicks ass. Context, context, context. THIS IS NYC. Get over it!!!

  38. dude

    speaking of new projects at columbia, has anyone seen the new cafe project for the Journalism school? it's a nice little glass addition... pretty cool looking.

  39. david

    I love this building. All of you have horribly conservative, suburban architectural taste.

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