Columbia Business School



As the Columbia Business School outgrew its home at Uris Hall, an aging Modernist building at the heart of Columbia University’s main campus in Morningside Heights, its various populations and programs were scattered across facilities in the surrounding neighborhood. Then, in 2010, the university announced that the business school would join the arts and sciences faculties in moving to the nearby Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem, where it would be housed in a new facility large enough to fit its growing program. In planning since 2002, the Manhattanville site was hotly contested by community advocates and students alike, who cri­ticized the wealthy institution’s push into one of Manhattan’s poorest neighborhoods as a form of gentrification. Negotiations with the community and a new vision of a campus integrated with urban life ultimately allowed the university’s long-awaited expansion to move forward.

Whereas Columbia’s iconic McKim, Mead & White Beaux Arts campus plan puts up a wall against the world outside, the Manhattanville campus invites the city in: a transparent, permeable, and public ground level extends the existing street grid inside its lobbies, seamlessly integrating town and gown. Located on the western edge of Manhattan, at 130th Street and Twelfth Avenue, the site abuts the elevated Riverside Drive viaduct and enjoys sweeping views over the Hudson River and West Harlem piers. The five-hundred-thousand-square-foot program is split between two buildings flanking a common open space, called the Square, which serves as the central quad for the new urban campus. Conceived as a pair of fraternal twins, the two structures share a family resemblance but differ in proportion and spatial organization.

In contrast to traditional business schools, which mirror the hierarchies and divisions of enterprise in order to prepare students for entry into the “real world,” the next-generation business school must aim to dissolve existing models. Typical academic buildings follow a stacked ivory tower paradigm: classrooms and other student spaces are located on the lower floors of a building, while faculty offices and administrative spaces are positioned above, far away from students and with the best views. The Columbia Business School, on the other hand, is designed to resist the segregation of its populations. Faculty and students are shuffled together like a deck of cards, each group given space on alternating floors.

Further challenging conventional top-down hierarchies, faculty offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, lounges, and cafés are part of a linked spatial ecosystem organized around two distinct vertical networks, facilitating planned and spontaneous interactions between faculty and students. Both groups enjoy equal access to surrounding views of the viaduct, the elevated subway, the river, and the neighborhood. Major public spaces form the street-level base of each network: in one building, a two-story urban-scale living room, and in the other, a three-hundred-seat auditorium. The two buildings welcome the community inside. The Innovation Lab provides a dedicated space for the school’s long-running local-business incubator program, while ground-floor retail spaces, including a café featuring local products, connect the business school with the surrounding neighborhood.

The move to Manhattanville tracks the school’s pedagogical evolution from a traditional finance-focused institution to a provider of a holistic, socially minded business education. Today, the school trains students to be nimble leaders confronting the interconnected challenges of the global business landscape: social upheaval, climate change, and the rapid development of digital technology. To be an innovator in business education, the school could not remain walled off from the world; rather it had to open itself up to the global city on its doorstep.

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Project information
Size (GSF)492000LocationNew York, United States
groundbreaking2016Commission2011Topping Out2019
PartnersCharles Renfro,Elizabeth Diller,Benjamin Gilmartin,and Ricardo Scofidio
Project DirectorsAlberto Cavallero and Miles Nelligan
Project ArchitectsChris Andreacola and Sean Gallagher
Design TeamRyan Neiheiser,Erica Goetz,Travis Fitch,Mark Gettys,Jess Austin,Amber Foo,Emily Vo Nguyen,Olen Milholland,Oskar Arnorsson,Mian Ye,Sabri Farouki,Patrick Ngo,Ebbie Wisecarver,and Quy Le
External credits
Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with FXCollaborativeArchitects
FXCollaborativeSustainability/LEED Consultant
ArupStructural Engineer, Exterior Envelope & Façade Consultant
Aaris Design Studios (Partner-in-Charge: Nicole Hollant-Denis)Associate Architect (Dedicated Dining, Multi-Function Room)
Buro HappoldMechanical Engineer
Turner ConstructionConstruction Manager
United Spinal Association's Accessibility ServicesAccessibility Consultant
Tillotson Design AssociatesLighting Design
Cerami & AssociatesAcoustics
Van Deusen and AssociatesVertical Transportation
Stantec ConsultantsCivil Engineering
Cerami & Associates, The Clarient Group, Jaffe HoldenAV
The Clarient Group, Jaros Baum & BollesIT
DVS Security Consulting and EngineeringSecurity
Romano GatlandFood Services
Dharam ConsultingCost Consulting
PentagramGraphics and Wayfinding
    Photography by Iwan Baan