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First Renderings Revealed for Cornell Tech's Residential Tower

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When Cornell dropped dozens of new renderings of its Roosevelt Island tech campus in December, the residential tower was still a mystery. But no longer. Renderings for the 26-story tower were presented last night to Community Board 8 by Andrew Winters, director of capital projects and planning for Cornell NYC Tech, and architect Blake Middleton of Handel Architects.

Winters emphasized how the residential building, is being developed by Hudson Companies and Related Companies, fits in with the master plan for the campus, which is currently in phase one. Phase one includes this residential building, which will house students, staff, and faculty, an academic building, and a co-location building, as well as ample outdoor space all located at the northern most part of the site, where Goldwater Hospital used to sit. The residential tower is at the northeast corner, with green space to the southeast and a planned executive education center (not yet revealed) to the west. Phases two and three, which will be to the south, might not sprout for another 25 years.

The design process for the residential building was inspired by the diagonal lines of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and by other towers on islands, such as the San Marco tower in Venice (because a 500-year-old bell tower is the same as a modern glass apartment building?). Through a series of slides, he showed how the design went from simple rectangular prism to the more dynamic final design.

The tower will be 26 stories tall and Middleton said it would have a "warm tone of silver and champagne colors." Due to flooding concerns, there will be no basement. The first two floors will contain amenities including a "porch" and "lounge," and the highest occupied floor will contain meeting space. The two floors below that will be for faculty and staff housing. The remaining floors will be student housing. There will be 10,600 gross square feet per floor, and the building will have 356 units.

Some members of the community board raised objections to the building's height, saying it would "disrespect the bridge" and would both interrupt the south view from the bridge and block full views of the bridge itself. However, when it comes to the view from the bridge, it would only be a brief interruption. One member of the board pointed out that the only way the view would really be blocked is by going through the Midtown Tunnel. As for the view of the bridge, it was pointed out that there aren't many places in either Manhattan or Queens that have a view of the full length of the bridge.

Of course, all of these objections were somewhat strange given that the allowable size of the building and an abstract of its shape were already discussed in previous phases of planning for the campus. In fact, the building presented last night is shorter than it could have been. Cornell was allowed 320 feet and the building proposed is only 285-feet tall (the top of the bridge is at 350 feet). It is also narrower than the allowable envelope relative to the width of the island. Many members of the board also spoke up to voice their support for the plan, one saying the team did a "great job" and another calling it "balanced."

One member of the board wondered why the towers (both the residential building presented Wednesday and the previously revealed academic building) are on the north end of the campus. The Cornell team replied that this is because solar power units are to its south. Speaking of power, they are testing geothermal energy in one of the current green spaces. Depending on how that goes, more geothermal systems might be installed. Middleton guaranteed that the tower will get at least LEED silver certification, but they will try to achieve gold or higher.

Some members of the committee wondered about public seating and the Cornell team said that from permanent and movable seats to concrete walls to grass, there will be plenty of room to plant your tush (not their phrase) on the campus, which will be open to the public. By mandate, the campus must have at least 20 percent open space, and Winters pointed out that they have actually exceeded that amount. In the end, the plan won approval from the board's Roosevelt Island Committee, though it was less than unanimous.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Cornell NYC Tech [official]
· Cornell Tech's Glassy Green Roosevelt Island Campus Revealed [Curbed]
· All Cornell coverage [Curbed]