The Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island Campus Maximizes Transparency and Collaboration

By Jordan Scott

Transparency was key to providing openness, views and natural light for a building that is the center of academic collaboration. That’s why the architects be-hind the Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island First Academic Building—the Bloomberg Center and the Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island Tata Innovation Center (the Bridge) in New York chose glass as a major feature of each building.

The building has a central bowtie-shaped space that connects floors and collaboration spaces. The 245,000-square-foot building holds classrooms, labs and studios in its lower third. The upper floors will host technology companies and start-ups.

“We wanted everyone to be within 30 feet of the wall to maximize access to daylight and views. The center has glazing that camps out, reaching to the views,” says Mike Harshman, project manager at architectural firm Weiss/Manfredi. “The geometry was a major challenge. The original plan was closed and boxy with no light. The truss shape stretched the corners and opened the cores.”

Weiss/Manfredi’s goal was to create transparency throughout the building so that everyone would come together. They wanted people to be able to look into the makerspaces and common rooms.

“On the Bridge, the architect played with geometry as well with the dramatic inverted sloped entrance wall and the zig-zagged mullions integrated into the unitized panels of the main facades,” says Michael Haber, managing partner of W&W Glass, the project contract glazier. “The diagonal faux mullions were fabricated into rectangular-shaped unitized panels to assure there would not be difficult gasketing/sealing situations between panels on site.”

The Bridge

W&W Glass was involved heavily with critical detailing throughout the duration.

“Engineering, sequencing and logistics were paramount. The building structure was designed as a truss system, whereas the en-tire building collectively deflected differently at locations under load, up to 2 inches. Due to the anticipated deflections, instead of installing the unitized curtainwalls level around the building, the curtainwalls had to be set at various elevations, so when the entire building was taking on the full dead load of the curtainwall, it would all be level,” says Haber.

The glass was supplied predominately by Viracon.

“These insulating glass units were 1-1/8-inch thick, comprised of VRE-13-54 low-E on low-iron glass combined with argon fill, and were made with several different custom silkscreen patterns to provide shading and texture to the facades,” says Haber. “Many patterns even had custom vertical lines that accentuated the diagonal mullion areas. On the inverted sloped curtainwalls and skylights, we supplied Ipasol Neutral 70/39 low-E coated, argon-filled low-iron insulating glass units fabricated by Interpane in Germany. This glass was 1-7/16-inches thick, heat soaked and tempered over laminated insulating glass units. They were trapezoidal with a silkscreened dot frit. The largest unit was 67 inches by 139 inches.”

The glass is 60 percent opaque and 40 percent transparent to maximize sustainability.

The building is on track for LEED Gold certification.

Unique expression was important to the architects.

“The original campus master plan had all the buildings looking the same because the campus is on city land. Cornell moved to negotiate between contractors, and we found a way to create individual expression with a unified campus vision,” says Harshman.

Haber adds that these projects were unique in many ways. “To begin with, they are both located on a small island with trucking limitations, so some materials and equipment had to be barged to the site,” he says. “The designs of both buildings were very unique—making engineering and detailing very extensive. On the Bridge, the various pitches on the trapezoidal glass transitioning into the vertical walls and skylights, along with the custom frit patterns on the glass and diagonal elements, really made this building stand out. And facing this building is the curved glass stairwell of the Bloomberg Center, which is the showpiece of that building. Both buildings, side by side, built basically at the same time, seen together from across the East River in Manhattan, really make these projects very different from others we have done.”

The Bloomberg Center continues the theme of transparency. The façade maximizes daylighting and exterior views while also maximizing insulation and reducing thermal bridging. It is planned to be one of the largest net-zero-energy academic buildings and to achieve LEED platinum.

The Bloomberg Center

The architecture firm, Morphosis, designed the building as a rain screen system composed of aluminum panels. Ac-cording to the firm’s website, the panels are surfaced in an iridescent, PPG polymer coating.

“Viewed from afar, the aluminum panels register a continuous image that merges the river-view scenery from Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island location and Cornell University’s idyllic campus in Ithaca, N.Y.

“We were very impressed with the complexity of the designs on both buildings. On the Bloomberg Center, the architect wanted to showcase the glass on the curved stair structure. The wall panels, designed and fabricated by Zahner, had punched-out circles with tabs tilting them to various degrees to form a background design, almost pix-elated in nature from a distance,” says Haber. “Along with this, the design team looked for seamless symmetry between the metal wall panels and the glass joints around the envelope of the building, interconnecting all geometries of canopies and terraces.”

The Bloomberg Center has a total of nine exterior glass types all manufactured by Guardian and fabricated by Cristacurva in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“The glass had Guardian’s SNX 62/27 low-E coatings, and also had laminated glass on either the inboard or outboard lite, depending on its location on the building. The stair structure glass was made with 1-7/8-inch, double-laminated, SN 68 low-E coated, low-iron tempered glass. The largest unit in this area was 5 feet by 7 feet and custom curved at a 6-foot-9-inch radius,” says Haber.

W&W Glass had to keep several considerations in mind as it worked on the project.

“On this building there is a curved glass stairwell enclosure. Custom connections had to be designed and engineered to clad a diagrid steel structure. Along with the layout and installation challenges of this, the steel was engineered to have a pre-camber for the assumed dead load of the glass,” says Haber. “We overcame this by pre-tensioning the steel with cables, thereby simulating the weight of the glass. Due to the tight tolerances of the joints between the glass, the connection details, and the fact that the glass was bent, there was no room for error.”

The Bloomberg Center and the Tata Innovation Center were completed in the second half of 2017.

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