Yesterday, the board of trustees of the New School approved a design by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for a new block-long campus center to rise on 5th Avenue. The new facility—a 16-story, 350,000-square-foot structure clad in glass and weathered brass panels—will replace the university’s 65 5th Avenue building, which is located between 13th and 14th streets and currently being demolished. It will be the largest building project the 91-year-old institution has ever undertaken, though it was nearly much larger.
courtesy SOM, the Villager
The program is split between two primary functions. The podium up to the seventh floor is dedicated to academic purposes, such as studios, classrooms, a library, and an 800-seat auditorium. Then comes a landscaped setback above which will rise nine floors of dormitory space with 608 beds for the school’s undergraduate students.
The residential floors consist of a fairly standard housing block layout devised by SLCE Architects, but Duffy sought to push the boundaries below in the academic base. “We externalized the interactive spaces and circulation to put the flow of people on exhibit,” the architect told AN. “It’s an attempt to harness the energy of The New School and creates the iconography of the building.” To achieve this energy, stairwells and public gathering points are pushed to the perimeter and opened to the street behind transparent stretches of glass.
While the visible stairs create bold diagonal slashes in the building’s rectangular volume, the rest of the enclosure is more demure, though no less unusual for the Greenwich Village. The architects chose brass, which is half zinc and half copper, because of its color stability. Pre-patinated to a chalky chestnut brown, the horizontally banded facade will maintain its character through the years rather than aging to green as copper would. “It’s beautiful,” Duffy said. “It has a real materiality and will be distinctive in the neighborhood.”
This design replaces a previous proposal that the New School put together with SOM in 2008. That plan presented a much larger building clad entirely in glass, though the externally visible circulation was still key to the scheme. It was also strictly programmed for academic uses.
The idea invoked strong opposition from the community, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation railed against the project’s 350-foot height and excessively glazed skin. The university ran into difficulty in obtaining the variances necessary to push the design through, but in the end money killed the proposal. “It was too big and too expensive,” explained Jim Murtha, the New School’s executive vice president. “We had to scale back a bit.”
In addition to softening their ambitions—the scope of the current design is as-of-right—the New School invited onboard developer Douglas Durst, one of the institution’s trustees, as a man who knows how to get buildings done. The addition of the dormitory component helped to make the project more affordable, as the students who occupy the space will be paying room and board as well as tuition.
The move will also help to dispel the university’s reputation as a commuter school. “We’ve found that having undergraduate student housing close to campus is very valuable,” Murtha said. “It works both for the community of the New School and for the finances."