Plans for Thom Mayne’s Roosevelt Island Tech School Building Unveiled

A rendering of the Thom Mayne-designed academic building on the Cornell NYC Tech campus, Roosevelt Island.

In the dystopian near future of Gary Shteyngart’s “A Super Sad True Love Story,” readers are thrown into a bizarro world in which Staten Island displaces North Brooklyn as the epicenter of hip. The new identity of the forgotten fifth borough makes for instant comedy, as to anyone familiar with the cultural topography of New York, the scenario is laughably absurd.

But just as most of the novel hits painfully close to home in its quasi-fictional view of America, Staten Island’s radical makeover is not so hard to believe. With the Louis Kahn-designed FDR Four Freedoms Park opening at the end of the month and plans for Cornell’s highly anticipated tech campus under way, the significantly smaller and stranger Roosevelt Island is undergoing a cultural sea change right before our very eyes. Today, Cornell unveiled plans to help illustrate what the island’s near future may look like when a 12.5-acre campus master plan designed by SOM and James Corner Field Operations (of High Line fame) and a brand new academic building envisioned by Thom Mayne of Morphosis take shape.

“The challenge is how do you create a tech campus today that is still flexible enough to grow and evolve for the next 25 years?” said Andrew Winters, director of capital projects and planning for Cornell NYC Tech, according to The New York Observer. This is the challenge that Winters and all parties involved, including the City Planning Commission, will be tackling for the next 26 years: the Cornell campus is expected to have four new buildings by 2017 and six more by 2038. Only Mayne’s building, the first academic building on campus, has an explicit design thus far.

According to The Observer, Mayne’s building is centered around a grand atrium with a staircase connecting its five floors. Elevators have been relegated to the periphery of the building to discourage their use, and a cafe, as well as retail spaces — all open to the public — have been integrated into the building. The renderings depict a building that marries state-of-the-art sustainable design (all buildings on campus will be net-zero) with lithe and expressive construction, not dissimilar from Mayne’s 41 Cooper Square. If it’s any indication of what is to come, Roosevelt Island will eventually be home to a series of distinctive landmarks eager to compete with the island’s vistas of Manhattan and Queens.

- Kelly Chan