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10.04.2010
City College Retools with Research Lab Revival
SOM-designed Marshak Science Building gets facelift amid R&D building boom at Hamilton Heights campus
A rendering of City College's Marshak Science Building, showing the 1971 concrete structure reclad with a new glass-and-aluminum facade.
Courtesy Ahuja Partnership Architects

The Marshak Science Building, for decades one of the principal laboratory facilities at the City College of New York, is getting a facelift as part of a major push to reinvent the Upper Manhattan campus as a state-of-the-art hub for advanced research in the sciences.

The 13-story concrete structure, designed by SOM in 1971, is currently undergoing a rehabilitation of its original concrete facade, and receiving a completely new glass curtain wall. Meanwhile, a clutch of new research facilities, including the CUNY Advanced Science Research Campus, are in the works for the school’s expanded South Campus in Hamilton Heights.

The Marshak curtain wall is 90 percent in place, said Raj Ahuja, principal of Ahuja Partnership Architects, which is now completing the project. Ahuja's former firm, Ahuja Priya Architects, was originally hired ten years ago to repair shoddy concrete panels, some of which actually fell from the building in 2005. The team found that the original concrete, though common at the time of construction, had proved unsuitable for East Coast weather, said Ajay Ghei, an associate at Ahuja Partnership and project manager for the Marshak Building. In some instances, panels were only held in place by glue.

 
the marshak building under construction, with aluminum panels added on the north and south facades.
COURTESY rsd engineering
 
 

By 2007, the repair work had evolved into a $45 million renovation, including plans for the new facade drawn up by Ahuja Priya Architects -- the only way to avoid continual concrete repairs. “The new curtain wall has been designed to be the only wall,” Ghei said. This means that upon completion, the new wall, attached to the original by means of metal tubing, will insulate the entire building and protect the remaining substandard concrete, still a major liability. Thanks to this foresight, the wall, which also integrates aluminum panels on the north and south elevations, will allow for the eventual removal of the original single-pane windows, freeing space for new HVAC units. (RSD Engineering is the project's engineer.)

These changes come in the midst of the City University of New York’s “Decade of Science,” a refocusing of university funds and attention on research and development in advanced math and science. Though the Marshak Building opened four decades ago, City College spokesman Ellis Simon said that it has remained one of few science facilities on campus -- including research laboratories in the Grove School of Engineering, which is housed in Steinman Hall, and in Townsend Harris Hall, which has teaching labs for the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education -- despite a recent explosion of research activity at the school.

In order to accommodate this new emphasis on research, CUNY has initiated a number of projects, foremost among them the new CUNY Advanced Science Research Campus, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, with Flad & Associates serving as architect of record and designing the labs. The campus consists of two buildings: one for researchers from throughout the City University of New York, and one solely for City College faculty laboratories that will be known as the City College Center for Innovation and Discovery. These facilities should help alleviate demand on the Marshak Building, which also houses the Nat Holman Gymnasium and the Jeremiah Mahoney Pool.

The new science buildings will join the School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, recently remodeled by Rafael Viñoly Architects, on CCNY’s ever-expanding South Campus.

The Marshak Building, which will also undergo a series of interior laboratory renovations, will remain open throughout the exterior construction phase scheduled for completion this fall.

Robert E. Thomas