There Goes the Neighborhood II (The New Science Building at Columbia University)

Am not sure why Columbia Univ. didn’t name the new science building “The Future Mrs. X.” Right now, they’re calling it The New Science Building. No doubt they left the name open until a suitable donor comes by after whom to properly name it.

And I really don’t know what NYT architecture critic Nicholai Ouroussoff was thinking when he called the new building at the northwest corner of the main campus (at Broadway and W.120th Street) a big, tough building, but tenderhearted” building.  Nor do I see how it represents “a work of healing” that “[bridges] the divide between the insular world of the campus and the community beyond its walls.” ( Because it lets out onto the street? Because of the open view it affords its students and faculty inside the building? No doubt the primary interest is to create a more smooth space between the northwest corner of its main campus and the new, projected campus up the street in West Harlem (Manhattanville).

Another way to look at the building is to walk up Broadway from 116th St. down towards 120th . St. You will find yourself met by and walking alongside a dead stone slab of a wall running alongside that stretch of the building, under surveillance of course. The design does nothing to open up either the building or the University to the street. Certainly, the huge glass wall alongside 120th  St. opens the view from inside the café to a view of the neighborhood outside. But the view from outside looking inside is dis-abled by the fact that the café sits above the street on the second floor. Rather than open out into the neighborhood, the University looks over and down on it.

And another way to look at the building is from on campus looking north towards the The Future Mrs. X. This view allows you to see that all the open glass on the left faces east, into or onto campus. The right side of the building, looking west towards Broadway and Barnard College (the neighborhood) is hard, machine metallic. With the charm of an air conditioning unit, the building turns its back to the neighborhood.

The more serious point behind this snark is the way in which The Future Mrs. X, like the Manhattanville campus tells a very unpleasant story about the future of the modern university, its relation to the larger urban community, and the bad faith efforts with which it tries to spin the privilege it takes for granted.  

For a more critical take than the one that appeared in the NYT, see

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to There Goes the Neighborhood II (The New Science Building at Columbia University)

  1. mads says:

    But they sell really good brownies in the cafe.

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