Cornell University’s plans for its New York City campus are still moving ahead despite the pandemic, and the first phase of the 12.5-acre Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island is now complete with the addition of two new buildings by Snøhetta.
Completed in the fall of 2021 and opening to the public in December, the new Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and Verizon Executive Education Center are technically separate but connected by a sinuous single-story podium and a jointly shared public plaza.
“From the beginning this was a unique experience because we got to design two buildings at once. Although each program and each client required a distinctive expression, the buildings ultimately work in partnership and are integrated within the larger Cornell Tech campus,” said Michael Cotton, Snøhetta director and senior architect, in the project announcement. “As we worked through the design, we found that creating a unified base wrapping a shared courtyard offered the best way to bring together the two projects while also providing a functional podium supporting the individual use of each building. What results is a study in contrasts linked by public space: the hotel, tall and slender, uses the public realm to connect with the VEEC, which is low and soft by comparison.”
The 36,500-square-foot business conference center is the noticeably shorter of the two, rising only four stories. Three of those floors come to an angular prow facing the courtyard, with the upper two levels of classrooms wrapped in vertical aluminum louvers clad in red oak to soften incoming sunlight. Snøhetta claims that each louver is aligned to preserve views of the surrounding city, as Roosevelt Island sits right between Manhattan and Queens. Altogether, the new addition contains four flexible classroom spaces and a banquet hall. The center is topped by a glass box set back from the edge of the classroom floors.
The hotel, on the other hand, towers over the adjacent Verizon Executive Education Center at 36 stories. Unobstructed clear glazing was used across the podium to provide clear views across the campus, and that continues to the base of the hotel, which sees the tower cantilevering over the front entrance thanks to two massive V-shaped columns. Inside, the building hosts a ground-level bar and 196 hotel rooms.
While Snøhetta was responsible for the design of the Verizon Executive Education Center, the firm only provided the design for the hotel tower’s facade. To that end, the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel was wrapped in gently curving, double-height aluminum panels that narrow and re-expand as the tower rises, softening the building’s profile against the skyline. Stonehill Taylor served as the architect of record for the hotel, while Nashville’s Graduate Hotels designed the room interiors. For the landscape, Snøhetta collaborated with the New York-based Field Operations.
With the first phase of the SOM- and Field Operations-master-planned Cornell Tech campus now complete, the architectural showcase is on track for full completion by 2037.