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Monday, May 26, 2008

Barnard College Nexus



Barnard College Nexus in Manhattan, New York by Weiss/Manfredi

Barnard College, "The Liberal Arts College for Women in New York City" is located in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood, directly across Broadway from Columbia University's much larger campus. While part of the University's system of four undergraduate schools, by virtues of its inner-workings and having its own campus, the College has its own unique identity, surely to be strengthened by the Nexus, a 110,000-sf (10,200-sm) mixed-use building that "will serve as both a center of student life and activity and a home to several of the College’s showcase programs, including art, architecture, and performance."

Designed by New York-based Weiss/Manfredi, the building, now under construction, is at first glance a simple glass box, in the traditions of so many glass boxes in Manhattan. But the plan and section indicate that something more complex is going on, first by a slicing of the box in plan to open Lehman Lawn to the south to the courtyard of Millbank to the north. These open spaces are linked by a stepped plaza, with stairs expressed on the adjacent west façade, a parallel internal circulation.

Second the architects removed "chunks" from the building's interior to create what they call "slipped atria." Diagonally stretching from the Lawn to the roof and a grid of skylights near the northern end of the building, the slipped atria finds expression on the Broadway elevation, but its internal logic is this gesture's biggest strength. The complex spaces visually link the various levels, furthering a sense of community on the campus and connecting the different departments brought together in the building, while at the same time allowing each their own identity, much like the College within the greater Columbia University system.

Like other glass boxes in the city, great effort and expense is given to the façade, but the luminous terra-cotta glass panels that the architects devised depart from other glass boxes in their rich expression. If the renderings have any truth, the glazing will successfully relate to the surrounding masonry buildings and provide a depth that is greater than its shallow reality, something most glass boxes have a hard time achieving. The spacing and articulation of the solid panels help enrich the façades, while also emphasizing and bringing additional daylight to the slipped atria. It's an apparently simple building that expresses the College's sense of identity and community to the neighborhood and its "parent" across the street.

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