View Full Version : New Columbia Buildings - boring contextualist boxes

May 26th, 2003, 01:50 PM
Hi, I'm a Bostonian moving to New York next year to attend Columbia University. I was looking through the "construction" pages on its website and noticed some of the new construction, which is altogether horrifically bland. Apparently Morningside Heights has a serious NIMBY problem, and it's resulted in numerous cheap, brick boxes masquerading as architecture. Take a look for yourself:

Faculty Housing and new private elementary school:




Lenfest Hall:



School of Social Work:


May 26th, 2003, 03:00 PM
I know, it's sad. You would think that after so many of these buildings the community would want something different. Oh well. Are you studying architecture at Columbia?

May 26th, 2003, 10:49 PM
Nope...probably history or polisci. Cities and architecture are a side-interest of sorts...which is why I couldn't exile myself to Yale or Princeton or any other extra-urban college.

May 27th, 2003, 02:25 AM
Welcome to Columbia.

Unfortunately, it's not just the neighborhood that likes its buildings bland and boring. *As a Columbia grad, I can tell you that the school's administration likes to play it safe. *Those buildings you posted were built pretty much as they were initially designed by the school's architects (the neighbors had a beef with their height and scale but not the look).

Personally, I don't think even Lerner, the student center that opened a couple years ago, is all that interesting, conventionally unconventional. *Even if I liked the look, I would still hate the building because it's a TERRIBLE student center. *There aren't enough rooms for student groups, the rec room is tiny, its movie theatre has walls that aren't sound-proofed so that you can hear a band practicing in another room while you're watching a movie, etc. *Don't get me started. *It's unbelievable to me that this building was designed by the dean of Columbia's architecture school. Apparently, he forgot that buildings are used by people, not abstract ideas.

(Edited by pL86 at 2:33 am on May 27, 2003)

May 27th, 2003, 08:45 AM
Hey Chris, one must realize that in NY a building is often considered a success if it isn't downright ugly. Sad but true.

The West side in general is also the center for all things NIMBY in NY with members of university faculty often being the ultimate NIMBY demographic.

While none of this is obviously great architecture, it is still a step up from what else has been built in the area over the last 45 years or so.

May 27th, 2003, 05:42 PM
I'd agree with that. *these aren't bad at all. *maybe they could use chunkier cornices, especially the first one, but the bricks and stripes are pretty nice, and they could be a lot worse. *Here's Simmons Hall, Steven Holl's MIT dormitory:

May 27th, 2003, 06:22 PM
They're horrendous. The campus building code makes masonry exteriors mandatory to a certain extent. Tschumi complied despite his distaste for masonry, which he uses awkwardly. The projected new art school on 125th Street, designed by SHoP, should look more contemporary.

May 28th, 2003, 07:06 PM
Too bad anything on 125th feels worlds away from M. Heights (topography...not to mention demographics).

I suppose it's all (in a way) quasi-justified reactionism to the hideous 60s buildings around the law school.

A neighbourhood like M. Heights isn't really striving to have cosmopolitan flair, it would rather be a bourgey Gappy UWS adjunct where one can comfortably read the Sundayt NYT in the shadow of corniced apartment houses, fake or not. Lots of glass and steel may make for a dynamic corporate headquarters, but the extent to which it can make for plausible residential (or institutional) architecture in a boutiquey historic neighbourhood makes it a hard sell.

You'd think if they were going to do conservative architecture, at least make it look like it belongs to a university, as opposed to resembling, say, some of Moses' earlier projects.

May 28th, 2003, 07:08 PM
...resembling, say, some of Moses' earlier projects..

The ultimate insult to a NYers ears. ;)