A Campus Within a Building

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill gives The New School exactly what it needs—all under one roof.

by Ben Frotscher

Recently completed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the 16-story University Center for The New School brings together learning, living, dining, and socializing all in one location—giving the New York City institution not only a centralized home, but something that embodies the University’s pedagogy.

“Because their buildings are rarely adjacent to each other and most of them are renovations of existing buildings, The New School really needed a meeting point or nexus that represented their unique characteristics,” said Colin Koop, senior design architect for SOM’s University Center project.

Keeping in mind sustainability, clarity of structural design, and a kind of direct, straightforward expression to the architecture—as well as university and community needs—SOM’s project-based approach led the team toward an active design solution. A LEED Gold building, the perimeter stairs are a focal point both inside and outside the building, interconnecting study, lounge, and circulation spaces. “We didn’t want to make destinations out of going to study in a specific room,” Koop said. “They are very much on a thoroughfare. It’s really an interior street scape.”

The calibration of programs proved to be key for this project—including placing the café on the second floor and the library on the fifth floor—creating destinations for users and increasing chance encounters throughout the building. Student usage has been tremendous so far, with the three cafeterias in the building serving three to four times as many meals as expected.

“It’s gone over really well in the community, which is also a big part of this building,” Koop said. “It’s within a block or two of two separate, historic districts, and the community didn’t want the retail corridor for 14th Street broken for a building that was off limits to them. With the 800-seat auditorium on the ground floor and larger lecture rooms in the first level below grade connected by an open atrium, there are facilities that the community can have easy access to.”