Like many urban universities, The New School is without a campus in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, the school’s many colleges are sprinkled throughout Greenwich Village and further afield across Manhattan in multiple buildings that have little relation to one another. To bring a sense of cohesion, The New School recently hired SOM to design a new facility to serve as a university center. Currently under construction on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, the 364,000-square-foot, 16-story multi-use project includes a 700-seat auditorium, the main university library, lecture halls, classrooms, a 600-bed dormitory, and other critical amenities.
SOM worked diligently to arrange this varied program in a rational layout that would be intuitive to navigate, create spaces for random interaction between students and faculty, and comply with New York City’s stringent code requirements, while at the same time earning a Gold rating under LEED 2012. The architects began by dividing the academic program from the dormitory apartments, placing the former in the building’s first seven stories and basement and the latter in the upper eight stories. The two sections are joined in the middle by the library, which occupies floors six and seven at a setback that further divides the building into a podium and tower. The fourth and fifth stories are entirely occupied by classrooms, while the third down to the basement levels accommodate the massive volume of the auditorium around which is arranged additional classrooms, the lecture hall, the cafeteria and café, as well as a faculty lounge and the building’s lobby.
The trick to making a university center work in the middle of Manhattan, as more than one architect has learned in the past, is to develop a scheme for vertical circulation that creates a sense of community while still efficiently handling the deluge of traffic that occurs every time the bell rings and classrooms disgorge. SOM addressed this challenge deftly in the academic portion of the building by moving the stairs out from the core to the perimeter. On the building’s three street faces—14th Street, 5th Avenue, and 13th Street—glass-clad stairs slash diagonally through the otherwise orthogonal elevation. On the exterior, the stairs animate the building, broadcasting this hive of activity onto the grand stage of urban theater. On the interior, the stairs descend through a series of interlocking double-height spaces, visually orienting building users and furnishing large landings for congregation and serendipitous encounters.
Each of the stairs is actually two stairs, an open stair bundled with an enclosed fire stair running beneath. The fire stairs on the 14th Street and 13th Street faces link up with the traditional vertical fire stairs coming down from the dormitory, creating direct access to the street. The architects thought of this arrangement as analogous to a subway line, with the open stair acting as the local line and the fire stair providing express service out of the building. They also made ample use of fire-rated glass—120-minute walls and 90-minute doors—making the fire stairs visually display-worthy and reminding students that they are there to be used.
Moving the stairs to the perimeter gave rise to an innovative structural solution that informed the design of the rest of the building. Working closely with construction company Tishman and engineers at DeSimone, SOM used a composite structural system of primarily poured-in-place concrete, with structural steel handling select tasks, including supporting the stairs. The team designed three diagonal perimeter trusses, built up of 12-inch-by-8-inch-by-5/8-inch horizontal HSS steel tubing and 8-inch-by-8-inch-by-3/8-inch vertical HSS steel tubing, from which the stairs are cantilevered into the building. This solution allowed the stairs to flow through the interior without creating a sea of columns that would disrupt the double-height spaces. Lateral bracing was similarly moved to the perimeter, removing the need for concrete shear walls in the core and opening up more interior space for flexible programming. The other task handled by structural steel is transferring the load of the column grid 80 feet over the auditorium, a job done by four massive steel trusses, 9 feet, 8 inches in depth and built up of jumbo sections.
The center’s facade is only 30 percent glass, in keeping with LEED 2012 Gold rating requirements. In the classrooms, windows are arranged in two horizontal bands, one for vision, the other a clerestory with a light shelf that bounces daylight onto the ceiling. Limiting the amount of glass also allowed the architects to select a clear product with minimum low-e coating, creating an unfiltered experience of natural light uncommon in contemporary buildings. The rest of the facade is a rain screen system made of Muntz metal—a sort of brass containing about 60 percent copper and 40 percent zinc. Cheaper than copper, Muntz is extremely corrosion resistant, and, pre-patinated, it has a mottled dark brown appearance that helps the building blend in with the brick that predominates in Greenwich Village.