The Center for Integrative Medicine

Columbia University's Manhattanville Campus
Laurie Hawkinson & Jonathan Cole, Ctitics

Columbia University has three main campuses in Manhattan: the original McKim, Mead and White Quadrangle on 116th street between Broadway and Amsterdam, the Medical campus on 168th street and the new Manhattanville campus on 125th Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue. This fragmentation is likely the result of real estate pressures inherent in Columbia’s location within Manhattan. As land value keeps increasing, this will remain an obstacle and require a long-term strategic vision to grow the kind of cohesive institution we aspire to become. My project’s goal is to address those elements of such a vision that are concerned with bridging the campus’ spatial and programmatic divisions and exploring the positive potential of a denser, more vertical campus. The division I’m addressing with my project is between the Medical campus on 168thst and the laboratories for the natural sciences on 116th street campus. 

The Center for Integrated Medicine at Columbia University would establish its program by focusing on a number of problems that are better addressed through interdisciplinary research. Scientists from all related departments would establish research centers within the building. They would conduct lab work, teaching and field work on the topic they are addressing as well as establish and maintain a network of international communication. The major project topics, or centers, within the building would address contemporary medical issues and could include: a center for Autism research, Alzheimer’s research, Cancer, Addiction, Mental Health, and Obesity to name a few. The centers would be flexible and would change according to the needs and desires of the collaborative research groups. 

With a small footprint and a large, complex program to integrate, this project aims to organize a vertical campus and make verticality work to the advantage of a research university. Since Manhattan is the birthplace of the skyscraper, we have a large body of examples to learn from. One of the first things I noticed is a predominance of the center core, full floor type tower that is built around the dominant concern of efficiency: it’s merely a bottom line concept, and not a model for social interaction. When I visit such a tower, I notice that the floors are separate entities -“lobotomized” spaces in Rem Koolhaas’ words - that communicate only through closet-sized elevators or utilitarian exit stairs in a windowless
box. Sometimes, there is an open stair that connects two floors, but it offers only a small glimpse from one level to the next. Even the typical floor itself is visually disrupted: I can’t ever see further than 45 feet across, because that’s the standard distance from the façade to the fire proof core wall, which blocks any views through the building. In this circumstance, there is no way to maintain the perception of being in a tall building, and every floor could be a single story suburban pavilion. Manhattan’s verticality only reveals itself as I step to the ubiquitous curtain wall and look at the neighboring towers across the street.

For human beings, who are fundamentally social, these visual and physical limitations are stifling, and their effects reflect every flaw of the 1980’s top-down corporation with its compartmentalized, authoritative corner office mentality. The model of the center core tower forces us to look out from within, but never allows to look back at ourselves and at own inner workings. When we think of a University building, a home to some of the world’s leading researchers, we would hope that their cooperative and reflective ability resonate with the organization of the spaces they are to inhabit. Such a building should be a celebration of the human mind, its ability to look at itself critically and sympathetically, and its desire to connect and relate in every direction, socially, intellectually and physically. This fundamental desire can’t only be relegated to computer screens and conventions; it has to be hard wired into our everyday architectural environment.

In its visually dominant position, it is my intention for this tower to be a contemporary beacon for the Columbia’s Manhattanville Campus and follow in the tradition of many other famous American University campuses: Harkness at Yale, Cleveland at Princeton, Hoover at Stanford, Rockefeller Memorial at the University of Chicago, etc. Most of these towers referred back to the England’s Oxbridge campuses in an attempt to borrow with this image the century old reputation of excellence and prestige. Today, the American University has in its turn become the leading example in the world. Our new tall campus buildings will therefore stand as symbols to the contemporary values of the institution as their European precursors did. For this reason, instead of making them resemble anonymous corporate headquarters, we should embrace our true hopes and desires for what the American University can become and try to frame this vision as a symbol of our own time and destiny.