exterior view of two new academic buildings on the Columbia Manhattanville Campus

Columbia’s New Business School Favors Context and Well-Being Over Ostentation

Breaking the mold, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXCollaborative complete a future-proof complex within Columbia University’s new Manhattanville Campus.

“It’s not about propping up the princes of commerce but supporting connectivity,” says FXCollaborative senior partner Sylvia Smith when describing Columbia University’s recently completed Business School (CBS). “We didn’t want to pander to a specific image of grandeur but rather, create spaces that foster exchange and open up to the surrounding community.” This mindset reflects the school’s particularly forward-thinking approach, exploring how business can further social progress. Smith collaborated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro partners Liz Diller and Charles Renfro on the 492-thousand-square-foot facility, which features two “fraternal twin” mid-rise buildings separated by a central quad, which is called the Green and was conceived by landscape firm Field Operations

Built with sustainable low-VOC materials and increased ventilation rates, the two glass-clad structures are expected to achieve a LEED v3 Gold certification. Much of the interior finishes, flooring, and formwork were produced using a high percentage of recycled content from regional sources. The white frit block enclosures protect against harmful solar heat gain and utilize chilled beam and low-velocity underfloor distribution technology to reduce energy consumption.

Interlocking student and faculty stairwells anchor both buildings to their site. These skeletal arteries snake vertically to articulate a range of informal community spaces but perhaps most importantly, help break up the traditional hierarchy of offices and classrooms. Every column-free lecture hall, whether outfitted with 75 or 150 tiered desks, is flanked by curtain walls. Replacing the school’s outdated Uris Hall, the new complex brings together all of CBS’s departments and initiatives under one roof. Previously run out of an ad-hoc office fashioned in one of the main campus’s cafeterias, The Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Corporation now benefits from a dedicated suite.

interior stairway view
interior lecture hall, view through glass curtain wall to opposite building.
Students attend a lecture inside the newly opened David Geffen Hall at Columbia Business School. Henry R. Kravis hall, the building’s twin can be seen across the quad.

“While the design of each of the buildings is distinct, the two, like siblings, share a DNA unique to CBS,” Renfro explains. Though the Hudson River and Hudson Viaduct-facing Henry R. Kravis Hall features a more organic design—achieved with form-work gypsum and GFRC panels that extend from the exterior to the interior—the David Geffen Hall is more angular in profile. While the former focuses on a more intimate program of small study rooms, the latter benefits from a stacked massing with cantilevered and cornered levels that can accommodate larger classrooms. “They share the same kit of materials and overall program, but one has a layer cake pop-out facade that is recessed in the other,” Renfro adds. It’s easy to see activity from one building to the other, which plays into Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXCollaborative emphasis on student wellness. “They’ll spend most of their time here and we wanted to make sure it’s a good experience,” says Smith, “The ample use of daylighting and a warm but mute material palette were important parts of getting that across.”

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Henry R.  Kravis hall exterior evening
Henry R. Kravis Hall abuts the Hudson River Viaduct and overlooks the new Green, a circular quad that connects the two buildings.
David Geffen Hall Exterior evening
David Geffen Hall features the sam kit of materials as its twin, but with a slightly different design.

CBS is the latest addition to Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 8-million-square-foot Manhattanville campus masterplan. This new development champions a more inclusive agenda, avoiding the pitfalls of Columbia’s original Beaux-Arts Campus that cuts the institution off from Broadway and the surrounding Morningside neighborhood. Per the master plan, each building on the Manhattanville campus must feature ground-level public spaces to better integrate within the community. Joining the Square will be a line of street-facing retail spaces embedded within Kravis Hall and adjoining the 12th avenue-adjacent plaza developed for farmer’s markets. Rather than feature large austere stone walls and barriers, this campus puts the literal and metaphoric principle of transparency front and center.

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