Columbia University
@ RPBW

The Columbia university extension masterplan was started in 2002 by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. It is the last largest masterplan in Manhattan. It spans over 5 blocks in a disused area of Harlem, with an industrial past. A few old industrial buildings and two steel viaducts bordering the site on its West (suspended highway) and on the East (light railway) constitute the only architectural interests of the area.
I joined the team towards the end of the overall master plan, to develop more in detail the phase I, at the south of the area.
Presented above, it includes a business school, a Mind Brain research Building and a School of Art. We’ve chosen to consider the three buildings as one unity, to set-up the basis of the development. They articulate themselves around a public square facing South, and open to the 125th and 129th street. The two first levels are recessed from the alignment and capped by a 6-feet thick slab, the “plateau”, which creates a common datum for each building. The vocabulary of this “urban layer” is of transparency and steel structure, in continuity of the viaducts. Above the plateau, are erected vibrant colorfull glass volumes, all with different heights and tops disappearing in the sky.