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Silicon Island
Let the competition to turn New York into tech-central begin.
Courtesy SOM

It’s a big day tomorrow for the Groves of Academe, as the deadline for submissions to the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) Applied Science NYC Campus arrives. Last December Bloomberg lobbed a Request for Expressions of Interest for a high-concept school that would recast New York as an East Coast Silicon Valley for training and launching applied science entrepreneurs of all high-tech stripes. President Seth Pinsky of the EDC keeps referring to it as an “Erie Canal moment,” harking back to the early 18th century when Governor DeWitt Clinton, over protests from Thomas Jefferson, invested in building the Erie Canal, a move that helped New York compete and ultimately overtake Boston and Philadelphia as the country’s major shipping port.

 In scale and scope, the “Genius School,” as it’s been tagged, dwarfs the West Side stadium and even the Olympics bid, demonstrating that Bloomberg although in his last leg is still aiming high: a 30-year build-out; two million square feet of construction; $6 billion in overall economic activity; 22,000 permanent jobs; $1.2 billion in taxes for the City. The City is committing $100 million for infrastructure, or what an EDC spokesperson described as “seed capital,” and four sites for free to choose from, including Roosevelt Island, Governors Island, Brooklyn Navy Yard, or the Farm Colony on Staten Island. No wonder over two-dozen institutions started salivating when the project was announced last December.

Now down to the wire, with an administration eager to make a decision by year’s end so that Bloomberg can get his legacy shovel ready by the time his term ends in 2012, two front runners—Cornell and Stanford—and one site—Roosevelt Island—are coming into focus. (Perhaps rushed into print is more like it: the City requested “a quiet period for review and evaluation” and no talking to the press about details after Friday. Even now, the information is sketchy, but here’s the gist…)

Stanford's proposed tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
Courtesy Stanford

Cornell’s NYC Tech Campus is throwing its weight into a 150,000 square foot net-zero building just south of the Queensboro Bridge on the 10-acre site of Goldwater Hospital promising it will be “the largest net-zero energy building in the eastern United States.” Renderings show at least six buildings in all stacked, tilted or variously canted towards the sun and slathered in PVs. SOM is the architect on the team, and Field Operations is working on 500,000 square feet of landscaping with what looks like webs of turf gathered around building bases and running to ground. Karen Tamir, project manager for Cornell NYC at Field Operations, describes it as a “multi-layer landscape from grade to roof garden to balconies back to street level, with buildings over and under green roofs” building in part atop a 30 to 40 foot high plinth.  The program includes housing for faculty, staff, and students. Projects with connections to the community win points and so there not only are gardens attached to housing but also community gardens plus public spaces on campus, gardens as part of a public school, and a nursery so that the long-term project can grow its own trees.  The net-zero building is the linchpin and the first to be built of the highly-phased campus where energy production will be based on the photovoltaic arrays (devised by Distributed Sun of Washington DC) generating 1.8 megawatts at daily peak—plus a four-acre geothermal field with 400 wells drilled into Roosevelt’s granite foundation. (To get that solar power flowing fast a 60,000 square foot shed to prop up PVs is included in Phase One that could host all nature of community activities) Of the super-sustainable structure, Kent Kleinman dean of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning said, “We wanted to do something that would demonstrate our values and that would also reflect the things actually being researched inside. LEED Gold and Platinum are nice but it’s better to generate as much energy as you consume.”

Cornell's proposal is filled with sustainable construction techniques. [+ Click to enlarge.]
Courtesy SOM

Kleinman described the tech school’s curriculum as focusing on three “hubs” of learning: Connective Media, Healthier Life, and Built Environment. The hubs would be demonstrably anti-silo with “aggregations of expertise”—rather than core subject departments—and, say, agriculture specialists teaming up with engineers and media types. “It’s more of a community, less like a research park,” he said, “and not at all a mono-culture like the Google campus.”  Students and researchers would be working next to start up companies and co-located corporations, and everyone would share the tomatoes from the roof gardens.

With a high-powered technology partner, Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, the team is feeling strong.  “All vectors are pointing the right direction,” Kleinman said on the eve of their submission. “This could add a dimension to the way we study architecture and urbanism that would be quite profound, not just as a science.”

Inside the proposed Cornell tech campus.

A press release emanating from the office of Stanford University cut straight to the financial marrow of their own submission, StanfordNYC, stating that their proposal would come with an investment by the university of $200 million spent on start-up costs and an “initial endowment” for a 1.9 million square foot campus with housing for 200 faculty and 2,000 students in LEED Platinum digs. Stanford president John Hennessy also pledged $1.5 billion would come from a ten-year capital campaign with an “accelerated launch” for 2013—music to the major’s outgoing ears. With a constant refrain that they are the spawning ground of Google, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, Stanford wants it known that they know how to translate teaching into economic lift-off. The university is partnering in its bid to win with City College. And instead of promising a Phase I building, classes with an initial emphasis “on research and education related to New York’s dominant industries of finance and media” would start being held on the City College campus as early as 2013. The proposal’s architect is Ennead, who referred requests for more information to the Stanford communications office. Interestingly, with all the rhetoric about sustainability flying, neither Cornell nor Stanford seem to have seriously considered re-using the Goldwater Hospital buildings.

Virtually no details were forthcoming from the other institutions believed to be making submissions at deadline, other than reports that Columbia is focusing its proposal on Manhattanville and New York University in concert with Carnegie-Mellon (who is pitching a second lone wolf proposal as well), University of Toronto and U.K.’s University of Warwick, presumably on downtown Brooklyn. Little was heard about universities taking advantage of the other gratis sites, the Navy Yard or Staten Island. Surprisingly, Governors Island doesn’t appear to be getting any of the love. It’s already way too built-up, according to one team contender, referring apparently to the West 8, MNLA, Rogers Marvel Architects, and Diller Scofidio+Renfro plans already afoot.

With hopes high that the winners will be selected by year’s end and Bloomberg’s rallying cry “We can’t sit here and let Silicon Valley be bigger than us” ringing in every ear, NYCTech could be just over the photovoltaic-engineered rainbow.

Julie V. Iovine