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The East River Treatment
Memorial Sloan-Kettering and CUNY collaborate on two new towers along Manhattan's East River.
Two new towers are planned along the East River waterfront.
Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office

Manhattan’s East Side, already no stranger to hospitals, is about to play host to two new innovative medical towers. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and CUNY’s Hunter College have partnered on the projects, which will add more than a million square feet of academic, research, and patient care facilities to the city’s premier healthcare corridor. Designed collaboratively by Perkins Eastman and Ennead Architects, the buildings will seek to fulfill the evolving needs of the industry by placing a premium on adaptability.

“These buildings by their very nature have to be flexible. Floor plates and layouts have to accommodate a good deal of change over time,” said Brad Perkins, chairman at Perkins Eastman. “In the future, cancer treatments may change and the building must be able to handle that. In a specialized facility like MSK, each floor might be designed for a particular treatment but five years from now there may be considerable change.”


One of the most notable changes to traditional healthcare architecture in this design is the absence of extensive bed wards. “A lot of cancer treatments are now performed in an out-patient setting,” Perkins said. “You don’t need to be in a hospital bed. You can go home and be monitored. It’s the wave of the future.” Eliminating the wards and their rigid layout requirements from the program gave the architects room to provide more accommodating spaces.

Arranged as a series of stacked six-story volumes each containing a programmatic unit, the two towers—750,000 square feet and 336,000 square feet respectively—were designed to improve user experience. “We’ve adjusted the massing to maximize river views for both towers,” said Todd Schliemann, founding partner and design principal at Ennead Architects. The setbacks created by each volume also offer refuge for patients, families, and students with views across the river and surrounding city.

Aerial view of the site between 73rd and 74th streets (left) and current conditions along 74th street (right).
Courtesy Bing and Google

After entering the towers’ lobbies on a quiet, pedestrian-oriented street, the program becomes increasingly specialized as it rises, climbing to a clinic and treatment floors at MSK and moving from classroom space to research labs at CUNY. Inside CUNY’s tower, research and academic programs are joined by a communal stair. “They tie the whole building together,” Schliemann said. “We’re trying to make students and researchers feel like they’re part of a larger community.”

Facades of glass and masonry—potentially stone or terracotta—will set the towers apart from their residential neighbors with an uplifting aesthetic for an institutional typology. “You want to alleviate fear. Hospitals in the past were dehumanizing buildings,” said Schliemann. “We’re trying to create a dignified, almost normal patient experience.”

On September 10, Mayor Bloomberg announced the collaboration. The project will transform a former sanitation garage between 73rd and 74th streets that was demolished in 2008. Under the plan, the city will sell the site for $215 million and take control of the current Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing at 25th Street, which will eventually be redeveloped as a mixed-use project above a new sanitation garage. The towers are still in the schematic phase and must go through the ULURP process and pass review by the community board.

Branden Klayko