March 8, 2011
by: Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Conversation on Columbia University’s Manhattanville Academic Mixed-Use Development
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.28.11
Speakers: Philip Pitruzzello — Vice President, Columbia University Facilities, Manhattanville Construction; Fanny Gong, AIA, LEED AP — Assistant Vice President, Design Management, Columbia University Facilities, Manhattanville Development
Organizer: AIANY Public Architecture Committee


Manhattanville in West Harlem: view from 130th Street looking east.

The Manhattanville Master Plan is at the “beginning of getting ready for construction,” stated Philip Pitruzzello, vice president of the Columbia University Facilities Manhattanville Construction. Both he and Fanny Gong, AIA, LEED AP, assistant vice president for design management, presented a campus overview, design concepts, and construction progress of Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s master plan. Although not much more than demolition and slurry wall construction are visible at this point in time, Columbia University expects that Manhattanville will break boundaries, both within the private institution and outside of its own walls.

The master plan is one of the pilot projects for LEED for Neighborhood Development; it has the goal of achieving a minimum LEED Silver certification; it is a partner with the Environmental Defense Fund; and it is part of the PlaNYC University Challenge. To uphold such standards, the commitment to sustainability encompasses the health and welfare of the general public throughout construction and beyond. Pitruzzello noted that these goals were incorporated early in the planning process. Innovative strategies include developing a clean construction program and re-using more than 90% of the existing masonry and steel on the site.

Currently, four buildings designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, two buildings by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with landscape architecture by James Corner Field Operations are being developed north of 125th Street as part of the plan’s first phase. Some of the overarching design goals include maximizing transparency at the street level, and providing views of the Hudson River to the west, flexible research and academic space, and contiguous below-grade services. The most groundbreaking aspect of the design, however, Pitruzzello said, is the concept of “no gates, no walls.” Traditionally, Columbia University has literally fenced itself off from the community. In Manhattanville, academic buildings will incorporate small format retail and a network of open spaces and links to the water at street level. In so doing, the university is encouraging intermingling and it is trying to attract the community beyond its own students.

The first phase of the Manhattanville is scheduled for completion in 2015 with later phases expected to be complete around 2030. With promised economic and social benefits anticipated in the near future, hopefully Columbia University will be able to live up to its new standard.


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