West Side Story: CCSC’s Committee on Manhattanville Panel

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Now that Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plans have been approved by the city, the topic has largely disappeared from most students’ minds.  But for those who’ve checked out since late December, the plans are entering a new phase. Specifically, the What-Are-We-Going-to-Put-There phase.

Tonight, at the CCSC’s Committee on Manhattanville Expansion’s panel on the subject, several professors joined Provost Alan Brinkley and Vice President of Facilities Phil Pitruzzelo to discuss the remaining ethical concerns surrounding displacement and gentrification and to largely ignore the question of what’s going into the Manhattanville site. This is because, Pitruzzelo explained, except for some of the buildings in Phase I of the plan—which includes moving the Business School, SIPA, and the SoA, and building the Mind, Brain and Behavior Center—Columbia hasn’t decided what to do with the northern portion of the site.  But no matter, on to what the professors had to say.


Brinkley began the evening with a sweeping statement: “The Manhattanville project is the most important event in the Columbia’s history since the University moved here from midtown in the 1890s.” (And to think that this whole time we’ve been lead to believe it was the ’68 protests.)  He continued, “We have to find room for expansion or we have to accept that Columbia will not remain among the leading universities in the world as we are today.”  

Following Brinkley was Elliott Sclar, a professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, who said that development would happen regardless of whether or not Columbia expands.  Sclar doesn’t see the school’s expansion as a matter of gentrifying West Harlem, given that Columbia needs cheap housing around it, too.  “Gentrification isn’t something that’s in Columbia’s interest,” he said. “Columbia doesn’t need to be surrounded by investment bankers…”

Urban Economics Professor Brendan O’Flaherty also offered his opinion on the expansion—a rare occurrence, he noted.  “I’ve never said anything about Manhattanville before and I probably never will again.” O’Flaherty went on a bit of a rant about how Columbia doesn’t pay property taxes (it’s a non-profit organization) and he thinks it should.  But on the expansion itself, “this is dropping a pebble into a river as far as New York is concerned.”  

The evening’s discussion, much to this viewer’s chagrin, remained rather staid.  There’s something passé about debating the morality of the project, given that  preliminary construction and utility work will begin this summer.


For more on professors’ reactions to the Manhattanville expansion, check out this article in the February issue of The Blue and White. 



  1. huh they don't even know what they are going to do with the whole northern part of the site??? Then what was the point of causing such a fuss? why can't they leave it alone then if now they have to come up with something to do with it?

  2. Uris

    Well, if they move the Business School there, they sure will be bringing a slew of investment bankers with them, much to Sclar's chagrin. I surely won't miss them.

    • alexw  

      They're building the powerhouse for the entire future Manhattanville campus in Phase I. That's why it doesn't matter exactly what the future buildings are used for, it only matters that we know they'll exist.

  3. architecture  

    PLEASE for the love of god dont make the buildings in the expansion look like lerner/uris/IAB/law school. why doesnt columbia just stick to the traditional john jay/hamilton/havemeyer look? this is why id never donate...

    • ...  

      because howard roark said so.

      that said, they have a point. if columbia doesn't expand, gazillion dollar condos WILL go in. hell, that tuck-it-away dude has already converted some of his properties outside of the city to luxury condos.

      as far as neighbors go, something tells me that a university with a public image to look after would probably be a better neighbor than some nameless, faceless, get-richer-quick condo developer.

    • alexw  

      Because we don't build buildings like that anymore. Deal with it.

      They tried making the west side of Lerner look like Furnald, and it turned out incredibly shitty. We just don't make old timey brick faced buildings with copper roofs.

      You might as well complain that painters these days don't employ the techniques of the old masters. Or say that films these days suck because they include sound. Music was great until those assholes came up with the guitar.

      Things progress.

      • Yes.  

        Things progress and get uglier.

        • alexw  

          "An odious tower of extreme bad taste."

          -Guy de Maupassant regarding the Eiffel Tower, 1892.

        • The King of Spain  

          The old campus was built with a handful of really talented architects and a lot of cheap italian sculptors. They simply don't exist anymore. You can see that after MM&W die, and the laborers catch on to their abuse, that the quality of those buildings goes downhill fast. Lerner, Pupin, the science extensions, Wien, and Butler Hall are all miserable pastiches that were cobbled together for a buck. And Butler library is just a fat girl wearing too much makeup. George Gamble Rogers should have stayed making oppressive dungeons at Yale.

          Classical architecture has rules that are bad to break, so it's imperative to break them and explore new architecture. those rules are based on structure, aesthetics, and purpose, and if we don't share those qualities, the rules are pointless, and if you break the rules, a trained eye can see the crap for what it is: a kind of social dress-up. A good modern design is what we need here.

          It would have have been great if Columbia had had better architects under Grayson Kirk, but they didn't. And Greene hall and IAB do quite well in my book.

          • XJE  

            I second the praise for IAB. I would rank it among the more worthwhile products of the heavy-handed imposition of 1960's Columbia. No wussy-ass compromises or red-brick mimicry. International Affairs, in all her Fascist beauty, is a tribute to the Will.

            If the main campus is Lit Hum in buildings, then IAB is Contemporary Civilization. The problem with pretty much every subsequent building is that they ran out of good Core classes to base them upon, so you end up with things like Lerner, the Frontiers of Science of buildings.

          • ttan

            Actually, Wien was built a year before JJ. And after setting the basic themes of the Columbia campus, Charles McKim backed off from active management / design of Columbia buildings, leaving it to his senior staff.

            MM&W designed Johnson, as Wien was then known. It was intentionally built to be more "feminine" (Colonial decor, drapes, carpets, etc.) than its "masculine" counterpart, JJ, because it housed female, instead of male students. Look at John Jay's massive fireplance and wood-paneled, brass chandelier'ed, dining hall.

            I kind of wonder why more hordes of Vikings don't just show up, after getting lost on their way to Valhalla.

    • I think...  

      It has to do with being "green." Brick buildings (I think) require more energy with heating/cooling then say...a glass building. So, let's hope rather that imitating, Manhattanville uses todays standards to build something that can last into the future (something that the brutalism of IAB definitely didn't. At least I think it's brutalist. I'm not an architect)

  4. Neat!  

    Does anyone know if the new campus, north portion included, will initially host undergraduate classes?

    I'm '09, so it doesn't matter to me (nor to the upcoming '12 class, I suspect), but I am curious about the hypothetical dynamics of a split Columbia. Or of two Columbias 12 blocks apart.

    By the way, does anyone ever think about the Morningside campus and become struck about how small it is? Michigan and Stanford are behemoth, yet we're their peer. It probably helps that our (presumably significant) biomedical lab space is up in Washington Heights.

  5. The King of Spain  

    Columbia started buying the campus, because, as Machiavelli noted, it's better to get all the bloody work done fast. Since the second-phase will be built where people know it's going over the next 25 years, Columbia thought it would better relations, rather than slowly kicking out people from SROs around the area.

    It also aids logistics and the sense of campus that a single plan can give.

  6. The King of Spain  

    *James Gamble Rogers

  7. alexw  

    A brick facade is five times heavier than glass.

  8. The King of Spain  

    Tan Tan is right, and I meant to put John Jay on my list of poor buildings.

    What McKim did was standard procedure, so to speak, but his presence in the office has a demonstrable effect on the design. He did design some of the buildings himself, such as Low. I know that Havemeyer and Mathematics were supervised by Stanford White, which is why they look so damn good. Lewisohn was done by someone brought in by the donor, I think, and St. Paul's is the same deal.

  9. Anonymous  

    This is the shame of depending on Bwog comments for my fill of interesting Columbia-related forum chatter. This is a great article, with many points I'd like to hear feedback on (Should Columbia pay property taxes, or contribute more voluntarily to the municipality? What should go on the north portion of campus?). Yet we already have a running and, I'll admit, interesting conversation about the architecture of Morningside.

    As a result this one topic will predominate (the comment structure not allowing multiple threads in any coherent way) crowding out the other interesting ones, yet the fourth most interesting possible topic would be strictly preferred by most to anything that the next seven Bwog posts initiate, e.g. "Barnard girls are inferior to Columbia girls and their nominally independent college is a drain on our resources and strangely inferior to its peer schools it claims to be competitive with"/"OMG BWOG SUCKS NOW"/"hahaha bwog, gawker just burned you!11"/"Wow, Anthony Kelley just wrote something batshit".

    And onwards.

  10. what do you  

    call the study of doghouses?


  11. EAL  

    We could use a new state-of-the-art gym on the north end of the new campus. Maybe build something to Palestra standards. Better yet, how about an ice hockey rink?

  12. ...  

    The best part of the whole panel was when Professor Sassen asked Provost Brinkley if the university was still planning to be a non-profit organization. I thought that Brinkely's eyebrows were going to go completely vertical.

  13. well

    1) Can someone PLEASE clarify whether SIPA or SoA is moving to Mville? SoA makes more sense since they've already built studios in Prentis Hall.

    2) alexw, people DO still build things that reflect older styles. And successfully. See: Robert A. M. Stern CC '50, in particular some of the Student Centers he's designed for schools. Why did we get stuck with the glass shit brick? Scroll through some of those pictures. That building has half the Sq Ftage of Lerner by the way. Compare that to crappy heavy handed old style imitation, a la CEPSR, or that Old Peoples home on Amsterdam Ave across from St. John the Divine.

    3) Alum, that's interesting. Are they finally making amends for Reeves's colossal fuck ups? (Not fundraising for the aquatics center on 121st street and above Levien?)

    4) The above conversation about architecture is largely moot. The University hired Renzo Piano Workshop to come up with the concept. Glass Towers.

    5) Total aside, but the Nexus looks really fucking cool. Check out some of the images my scrolling over the links on this page: Even the concept images look cooler than Lerner.

    6) If you want to see what a careful bit of interior planning can do for a building, go to the Law School and enter the lobby from 116th street in the early afternoon. They've created a brand new lounge lobby space for students. Then go upstairs to Lenfest cafe. Leather chairs and an LCD screen. Enjoy Lerner, suckers.

  14. ssm  

    You should have come to the event. A lot of this was answered.

    There are plans for moving the SoA, SIPA and the business school in the so-called "phase I" of the project, which comprises the southern part of the zone. There will also likely be space for a conference center.

    Further, the new architecture will reflect both the concerns of modern academics (who like to draw people in) and the "community" as the University has chosen to define it. There will be no inward-looking campus or closed roads. Lots of glass on the ground floors and interchange of traffic.

    It is important to note, however, that the great majority of the zone remains unplanned and that none of the buildings have been designed yet.

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