High Tech and High Design, Cornell’s Roosevelt Island Campus Opens

By The New York Times - SEP. 13, 2017

Roosevelt Island, the skinny, two-mile-long strip of land between Manhattan and Queens in the East River, has been home to a prison, a lunatic asylum, a smallpox hospital and a workhouse, among other institutions.

It now adds high-tech university to that list, as the Cornell Tech campus is set to be dedicated on Wednesday, marking the opening of the technology-focused graduate school, which officials hope will encourage the growth of the New York City tech sector.

The campus was born of a 2010 competition started by the Bloomberg administration, which invited top-flight universities to compete to open an applied-science graduate center. Cornell University and its partner, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, were declared the winners and awarded $100 million along with a stretch of city-owned land on Roosevelt Island.

“High-tech companies and new, small companies that will be the next big companies, they tend to be created where the founders go to school,” the former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in an interview. “You see that in Silicon Valley. Here was a chance to get a bunch of people educated and create the economy of the future for New York City.”

To create that economy, Cornell Tech will offer about a dozen masters and Ph.D. programs in fields like information science and electrical and computer engineering. It has been operating out of the Google building in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan since 2012. This will be the first academic year the institution, which now has about 300 students and 30 faculty members, will have its own home.

Since Mr. Bloomberg left office, his Bloomberg Philanthropies have given an additional $100 million to the project for its main academic building, called the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center.

On the inside, the building looks in some ways like a contemporary office tower, with open seating plans for Ph.D. candidates and faculty. The rooms are dotted with soundproof enclosures that serve as 21st-century phone booths, a Cornell official said, in that they have no phones, but offer privacy, a place to sit down and little shelf for a laptop. A collection of small meeting rooms are dominated by large art installations, an idea that a Cornell official said was borrowed from Pixar.

“I was particularly pleased with the academic building, which I was able to name for my daughters,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “When we went over to take pictures, I was pleased that they were pleased,” he laughed. “You never know!”

The Bloomberg Center is one of three buildings completed so far, each with an environmentally conscious design. The Bloomberg Center aims to generate as much electricity as it uses, a concept called “net zero.” The House, a high-rise that will be a mix of graduate student and faculty housing, is a so-called passive house, which uses very little energy.

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