The design for the new science building at 120th St and Broadway has its origins in the historic Morningside Heights campus plan designed by McKim, Mead and White for Columbia University in 1897. The architects determined very early on that the new building should respect the McKim Meade & White plan; that it would measure just sixty-five feet in width, and would retain the same separation from its neighbors as indicated in that plan. Because of the construction of the Manhattanville Campus to the north, the new building was able to provide a much-needed gateway to the old campus for pedestrian traffic to and from the new campus to the north. Once the urban and campus-scale approach had been defined, the principle design challenge was to develop fluid connections between street traffic and the campus some 30 feet higher on a building site severely compromised by the presence of an existing structure, the Francis S. Levien Gymnasium, which occupies the majority of the ground plane. The vast majority of the new building had to be built over the existing gymnasium, while the site’s remaining free area, a mere 65-foot square area at the corner of 120th and Broadway, had to fit elevators, mechanical systems, complex structure and program. The escalators, stairs and café are organized so that the open space of the campus level plaza is visible from all key points along the path from the building’s street entry to the café and on up to the campus level lobby and library. The view of the open space of the campus above is meant to draw the building’s users through the entry and to welcome them to the University.
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