CASE STUDY: New School University Center

The University Center at the New School is a state-of-the-art multipurpose facility and symbolizes the heart of the New School. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in 2014, the center creates an untraditional vertical campus within a building, in which all schools and departments are represented. The facility utilizes passive and mechanical design strategies and is equipped to respond to the New School’s increasing demand for interdisciplinary and flexible programming. SOM designed the ideal environmentally friendly “Maker Space” that encourages interaction at all floors with places to eat, sleep, work, learn, and collaborate.

Located in downtown Manhattan, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, the University Center adds 370,000 SF to the New School’s campus. Of that, the center has 200,000 SF for academic space on the bottom floors and 170,000 SF for student housing above. The 16 floor facility houses:

  • 19 fashion studios
  • 17 drawing studios
  • 12 classrooms
  • 7 science labs
  • A large auditorium
  • A common central library
  • A large cafeteria
  • Faculty Resource Room
  • 15 Faculty Offices
  • 3 Student Lounges
  • Lobby/Café on two levels
  • Room for Music Provisions
  • 600 bed dormitory

The diverse program creates an ideal “Maker Space” by giving students room to learn, live, and work all under one roof. The facility’s centralized location creates a dialogue between the campus community, local neighborhood, and the city.

SOM envisioned the University Center as a campus within a building. Traditional learning, living, dining, and socializing spaces are transformed by being stacked vertically, creating strategic adjacencies between programs and interdisciplinary academics. Located throughout all levels of the building, these interactive spaces are tied together by three iconic stairs. “Sky Quads” next to stairways are social spaces used to promote interaction and orient users. SOM’s vertical programmatic approach creates room for encounters and hives of activity. The design promotes the New School’s progressive education technique to learn through questioning and interaction. SOM’s design creates pockets of collaboration where students can learn through discussing current issues involving democracy, urbanization, technology, sustainability, and globalization.

The center is an LEED Gold Building and is a top ten AIA Community of the Environment (COTE) award recipient. Passive design strategies were SOM’s primary focus and are evident throughout the building while Mechanical equipment took on a secondary role within the design. The facility’s optimized passive glazing, lighting, and shading design systems significantly reduce energy consumption.

The University Center has a glazed skin composed of 35% glass. The façade decreases solar heat gain and optimizes interior day lighting. Walkways, iconic staircases, and hubs of activity can be traced all the façade with large glass windows.

Clerestory windows on both walls of the main corridor, horizontal windows, and light shelves allow for natural day lighting and reduce light loads. Super efficient LED lights further reduce light loads. And shingled cladding shades 20% of the envelope during day light hours.

In addition to passive design strategies, the University Center also promotes active design strategies that encourage healthy living. Skip-stop elevators and entwined systems of stairways mitigate crowded conditions and support walking. Bike storage and locker rooms equipped with showers encourage cycling, walking, and running to and from class.

Secondly, the University Center serves as a living element of the curriculum for students in environmental studies, sustainability management and urban design. Passive design strategies and mechanical systems are exposed and put on display. These exhibits are used as instructional spaces for New School students and staff, hands-on learning environments, and community education. SOM’s design intertwines with the New School’s intention to promote continuous education.

Although secondary to passive systems, the New School’s University Center utilizes occupancy sensors, a 265-kilowatt cogeneration plant, sustainably sources materials, a green roof (to mitigate the heat island affect and collect storm water run-off), waterless urinals, and an in-house composting system. Most notably, the facility has an ice storage system in the basement. The system takes energy off the grid during off peak times to freeze water. The ice melts during the day and reduces the energy consumed during peak times. The center also has heat recovery wheels that recover and re-use heat from exhaust pumps. Together, the multitude of systems creates 31% more energy savings than a typical code compliant school.


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