Company Logo

2017 SARA|NY – VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE AWARD The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center New Medical and Graduate Education Building at Columbia University By Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects and Gensler

Architectural Commentary

Updated on Jun 11, 2017

View more like this | Visit NEW YORK, NY | Contact Kenneth Conzelmann
Image for 2017 SARA|NY – VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE AWARD  The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center New Medical and Graduate Education Building at Columbia University  By Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects and Gensler with ID of: 1807228


2017 SARA|NY – VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE AWARD

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center
New Medical and Graduate Education Building at Columbia University

By Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects and Gensler

In the northern reaches of upper Manhattan, along the Hudson River cliffs of Washington Heights, a new neighbor has arrived. There, at the western edge of an area of neat, densely packed six story beige and red brick apartment buildings from the 1920s, stands what may bring the question of time and space. Intense, defiant, the new medical education building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Gensler brings to question what is architecture if not challenging, inspiring; daunting, exuberant.

Anthony Saby, Project Director with DS+R along with Erin James of Columbia’s Facilities Management were our hosts leading the tour. We began from the street to view and discuss key features of the project starting with the idea of the “vertical campus” which manifests in the so called “Study Cascade”. This major design component is essentially an open 14-story stair from roof to ground, which tumbles down along the entire southern façade. Like a kind of glass and stone-encased scaffolding, the continuous vertical corridor unfolds fearlessly with interconnected spaces for studying, socializing, and as witnessed, snoozing.

What we see is a masterful composition and arrangement, a vertical stage if you will, of shifting, undulating lines, planes and volumes with varying degrees of transparencies and opacities, creating an inherently complex and dynamic interplay both visually and spatially.

We elevatored up and then climbed down the near-vertigo inducing Cascade. We found dizzying, kaleidoscopic perspectives and framed views, both broad and narrow. We saw the GWB spanning the Hudson against the Palisades cliffs of NJ, the WTC tower to the south and Long Island to the east – all confirming and anchoring our whereabouts.

We continued down, passing through various “neighborhoods” including the Sky Lounge, an exterior terrace, the Stepped Lounge, the Student Commons café, a range of study spaces, and the 2nd floor glazed auditorium directly accessible from the main lobby below. It is on the north side of the building stack which contains classrooms, administrative suites, exam rooms and simulation center, and the anatomy quad.

The building’s structural spine is site-formed with post-tensioned slabs. Glazing at the north end of the building utilizes gradients of ceramic frit to filter sunlight and to create a visual design pattern. The south end incorporates glass fin curtain wall technology and an applied GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) panel system to help articulate the building’s formation. Interior finishes integrate Douglas Fir for wood veneer and end-grain flooring, and terrazzo at high traffic areas.

The tour ended outside with a view of the existing garage park which was reconfigured to allow for new landscaping, garden and shaded sitting areas. We took a seat.

The concept of continuing the horizontal “campus green” and streetscape along Haven Ave - and then up and through the building - resonates, both with its visceral cutaway sectioning and public display window façade and in the varied and accommodating interior volumes. The use of innovative approaches in its construction, as well as the extraordinary perseverance required to make this challenging project a reality is truly commendable.

We applaud the collaborative efforts by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler for their vision, innovation and perseverance in the inception and execution of this project.


By Ken Conzelmann, ARA
SARA|NY Board Director
Co-Chair Design Awards Committee


Image for 2017 SARA|NY – VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE AWARD  The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center New Medical and Graduate Education Building at Columbia University  By Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects and Gensler with ID of: 1807236
Image for 2017 SARA|NY – VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE AWARD  The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center New Medical and Graduate Education Building at Columbia University  By Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects and Gensler with ID of: 1807242
goodideazs, LLC is not affiliated with the authors of this post nor is it responsible for its content, the accuracy and authenticity of which should be independently verified.