Columbia University Plans $6B Harlem Campus

The university's Manhattanville campus will ultimately span 6.8 million square feet and will take decades to complete.

By Barbra Murray

Columbia University Manhattanville Campus, Lenfest Center for the Arts and Jerome L. Greene Science Center. Photograph by Columbia University, Frank Oudeman
Columbia University Manhattanville Campus. Photograph by Columbia University, Frank Oudeman

New YorkColumbia University turns the spotlight on its greatest expansion endeavor in more than 100 years with a dedication ceremony for its new $6.3 billion Manhattanville campus in New York City’s West Harlem area, just north of its main campus. The event was an opportunity for the school to show off the development, which will come together in phases and ultimately span 6.8 million square feet.

It’s a day that’s been a long time coming. Columbia began the legwork for the Manhattanville campus in 2003, and five years later, commenced pre-construction work on the 17-acre site located between 25th and 133rd streets in what was once an industrial zone. The first stage of the gargantuan undertaking has yielded the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, which, at 450,000 square feet, marks the largest building Columbia has ever developed. The facility will house the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, providing meeting rooms, more than 50 laboratories and interactive workspace.

Columbia has also completed the 60,000-square-foot Lenfest Center for the Arts, the first presentation platform for the university’s School of the Arts, as well as the site of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery. In addition to 4,000 square feet of gallery space, the building features a 150-seat theater, a performance space and a 4,300-square-foot presentation space for readings, symposia and the like. The last of the structures comprising the initial phase of Manhattanville is the University Forum and Academic Conference Center, a 56,000-square-foot facility that is presently under construction.

This is not your grandfather’s college campus. Designed by architectural firms Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Manhattanville grounds will be as much for the community as they will be for the students. “The story we have to tell today is different. It addresses what it means to make a contemporary campus in the middle of the city,” Renzo Piano, chairman of Renzo Piano Building Workshop, said in a prepared statement. “With the first buildings…along with the University Forum and the plaza called the Small Square, you already see the essence of a campus. You have science, you have art, and you have community. Then, to make this a truly contemporary campus, the University and community merge. Traffic and people will move through seamlessly, without barriers. It is a campus built around the idea of shared values and of cultivating diverse approaches to life.”

Hence, RPBW’s “Urban Layer” concept, which calls for all the new buildings to be transparent at the ground level and open to the public. The Greene Science Center, for example, will feature a host of public offerings, including a community wellness center, an education lab, an interactive science installation, as well as retail and restaurant space. The outdoor space will be communal as well. The aforementioned Small Square is a 10,000-square-foot outdoor plaza with seating areas, performance and event space, and free Wi-Fi.

The Manhattanville campus is leading by example in more ways than one. Phase one of the project has secured LEED Platinum for Neighborhood Development certification, making it the first LEED-ND certified property in New York City, as well as the first university campus plan to achieve Platinum certification.

With the Greene Science Center and the Lenfest Center ready for initial move-in and the University Forum on track to open in 2018, the next building to sprout up at Columbia’s Manhattanville campus will be the Henry R. Kravis Building and Ronald O. Perelman Center for Business Innovation, which will sit around a one-acre public green space. Work is scheduled to get underway in 2021.

It’s really just the beginning. The Manhattanville campus will continue to be developed over a period of decades.