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Cornell NYC Tech to Bring Net Zero, LEED Platinum to $2B Roosevelt Island Campus

We’ve neglected one of the biggest stories in the local green building, building science, and technology scenes for some time. But it’s timely to discuss right now because, earlier this month, the City Council signed off on Cornell University’s ambitious $2 billion plan to build an applied science and engineering campus on the south end of Roosevelt Island. At this point, the final approval for the project – which has successfully moved through the city’s ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process – is Mayor Bloomberg’s, which is a fait accompli and should keep the project on track for an April 2014 groundbreaking.

The first Cornell NYC Tech building is expected to be a 5-story, 14,000-square-meter academic center designed by Thom Mayne’s Morphosis Architects that will aim for LEED Platinum and become the largest net-zero building in the eastern United States, powered by solar panels, geothermal wells, and water turbines (pictured, left). The school’s massive campus – it currently operates out of donated space at Google’s 111 Eighth Avenue headquarters – will ultimately cover 12 acres and 2.1 million square feet on the site of the former Goldwater Hospital on the southern end of Roosevelt Island.

When fully built out (in 2037!), 2500 students and nearly 300 faculty members will occupy a campus that could generate $23 billion in overall economic activity and $1.4 billion in tax revenue over the next thirty years. Learning facilities will be integrated with start-up office space, residential and hotel buildings, and an acre of open space. And academic and tech industry advisors will offer input on the school’s curriculum and other offerings. Skidmore Owings & Merrill is responsible for the master plan (picture, top) whose open spaces aim to replicate the campus-style corporate layouts prevalent in Silicon Valley.

Cornell’s proposal – with its partner, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, an 87-year-old, Haifa-based science and engineering school – won the competition launched by Mayor Bloomberg in late 2011 to build a new, world-class technology and engineering institution on land donated by the city, with nearly $100 million in infrastructure improvements thrown in for good measure. Upon selecting the Cornell NYC Tech bid, the mayor said that it “called for the most students, the most faculty and the most building space, over two million square feet. In this day in age, great universities know that they have to expand their locations, their horizons, their facilities and their interests. Cornell and Technion have definitely showed the courage to do that.”

To call the project transformative is an understatement – what Hudson Yards hopes to do for the West Side, Cornell NYC Tech (along with aspects of proposals submitted by Columbia, NYU, and Carnegie Mellon) will do for New York City’s technology and hard science industries. We’re particularly excited about how the campus will offer space to the start-up firms it creates, keeping them located within the five boroughs. Indeed, diversifying New York City’s economy beyond financial services (nearly 7 percent of Gotham’s total tax revenue in 2011) was one of the city’s primary goals of initiating the competition in the first place. With Silicon Alley continuing to boom, New York City’s tech future is bright indeed.

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