The third of Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s academic buildings for Columbia University is now complete, filling in the first phase of the school’s Manhattanville campus extension in West Harlem. The Forum, a triangular concrete-and-glass building on the campus’s south section, is the smallest of the Manhattanville trio but cuts an impressive, ship-like figure with its concrete entrance “prow.”
While Columbia’s factory-like Jerome L. Greene Science Center and stepped Lenfest Center for the Arts tower over the three-story, 56,000-square-foot Forum, all three buildings are elevated and glassy at street level to evoke a sense of openness. Whereas the Science Center houses Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and Lenfest now holds Columbia’s Wallach Gallery, the Forum was designed to hold conferences, meetings, public events, and a 4,200-square-foot public café and program space at ground level.
On the upper two floors, the Columbia World Projects initiative, which brings university research projects across the globe, will take offices, as will the Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia.
“In designing the master plan for the campus and its first three buildings, we wanted to help Columbia as a global university in the city and for the city,” said Renzo Piano in a statement, “so New York’s streets and sidewalks are woven into the fabric of the campus. This is not like the campus of earlier centuries. All the buildings are transparent, open to the public, and have amenities for the local community at street level, including plazas and green spaces for everyone to share.”
In mentioning the “campus of earlier centuries,” Piano is referring of course to Columbia’s central Morningside Heights campus, which is technically open to the public but bounded by walls and gates.
The Forum’s materiality is tied to this openness and its programmatic requirements; the entirely glazed first floor invites in passerbys, and the stepped, precast concrete topper holds a 437-seat auditorium. The auditorium, topping out at 31 feet at its highest point, is clad in rough stone and wood acoustic paneling, while polished concrete and exposed pipes are used on the first-floor common areas. Bright orange carpeting and rounded rectangular windows further delineate the office and meeting spaces from the rest of the building.
While every building in Piano’s Manhattanville triptych serve a specific purpose, dialogue with each other in both material use as well as planning, and are now finished, the Forum is far from Columbia’s last West Harlem project. Diller Scofidio + Renfro are designing the Henry R. Kravis Building and the Ronald O. Perelman Center for the business school, both slated to open in 2021, and Columbia still holds several open parcels in the area.
Interested in touring the Forum? The building will open its doors to the (ticket-holding) public on October 23 as part of Archtober.