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A building on a college campus. The building has columns, a rounded roof, and a large set of stairs leading up to it. People are milling around the building.
Columbia University’s Low Library.
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11 NYC college campuses with outstanding architecture

Where academia and architecture meet

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Columbia University’s Low Library.
| Getty Images/iStockphoto

New York City isn’t home to many traditional college campuses—those bastions of knowledge with stately buildings clustered around a rambling landscape that’s filled with students—but the colleges and universities of this city are home to plenty of beautiful buildings.

Among the city’s many institutes of higher learning are a bevy of beautiful buildings designed by notable architects, both old (Stanford White, George B. Post) and more contemporary (Marcel Breuer, Diller Scofidio + Renfro). Here, we’ve rounded up 11 of our favorite; and best of all, you don’t have to be a student to get a peek at many of these buildings.

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1. New York University’s Bobst Library

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Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square S
New York, NY 10012

NYU’s main library, which anchors the southeastern corner of Washington Square Park, is not universally beloved; the AIA Guide to New York City calls the building “bulky and heavy-handed.” But the structure, designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster and opened in the 1970s, is perhaps the best-known of NYU’s buildings thanks to its hulking, red sandstone exterior. The interior has a light-filled atrium.

A library building with several levels and staircases connecting them. Shutterstock

2. 41 Cooper Square

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41 Cooper Sq
New York, NY 10003

In contrast to the Cooper Union’s 19th-century foundation building, the college’s recent addition—a nine-story building designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, which opened in 2009 and houses its school of engineering—is not a staid reminder of its 160-year-history. Instead, it looks to the future of the institution, with a “vertical piazza” at its center that’s meant to foster collaboration. The structure, which is clad in mesh, doesn’t blend in with its East Village neighbors, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; as the New York Times’s critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote when it opened, the building is “a bold architectural statement of genuine civic value.”

3. The New School’s University Center

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63 5th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 229-5600
Visit Website

The New School says its University Center, which opened in 2014 on the corner of 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, is “a striking embodiment of The New School’s mission of challenging the status quo”—and indeed, the glassy building is unlike other structures in the area. Designed by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the structure has a series of staircases inside that are used in a variety of ways (seating, traveling, etc.). The facade reflects that; windows are placed along the exterior in such a way to give a peek at the collaboration happening within.

4. John Jay College of Criminal Justice

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524 W 59th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 237-8000
Visit Website

SOM is also responsible for the new campus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Midtown, which was completed in 2011—10 years after the 9/11 attacks, which led to an uptick in enrollment and thus the need for more space. The additions include a glass-covered 14-story building and an expansive landscaped courtyard that makes the whole thing feel like an actual college campus. Those two elements are connected by a staircase that’s used for seating, among other things.

5. The Juilliard School

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60 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023
(212) 799-5000
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The Juilliard School’s HQ, designed by Pietro Belluschi, is one of Lincoln Center’s many midcentury gems. The building occupies the northwestern corner of the complex, and stands out thanks to its shape—“all cantilevers and boxy geometries,” as Paul Goldberger put it in the New Yorker—and its travertine exterior. In 2009, the building got a facelift courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXCollaborative, who added more space to the building and let light in via a wall of windows facing Broadway.

A glass and concrete building in New York City. Shutterstock

6. Columbia’s Low Memorial Library

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Low Memorial Library
New York, NY 10027

Designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, & White, Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library is undoubtedly one of New York’s most notable buildings. Built in 1897, the 149,779-square-foot structure, modeled after Rome’s Pantheon, is located at the center of the school’s campus, and is topped by an all-granite rotunda (originally used as the main university reading room). The famous Alma Mater bronze statue by Daniel Chester French sits on the structure’s steps. The building served as the university’s library until 1934, and is now used as an administrative and event space.

Roman Revival building in the Columbia University Campus with a bronze statue of a woman on its steps. Dmitrii Sakharov/Shutterstock.com

7. City College’s Shepard Hall

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Shepard Hall
New York, NY 10031

Architect George B. Post is responsible for this neo-Gothic confection on the City College campus in Harlem, distinguished by its facade made of Manhattan schist, the bedrock of the island (according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the schist was excavated from the land under the campus). White terra cotta provides a stunning contrast.

8. Columbia University’s Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center

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104 Haven Ave
New York, NY 10032

Columbia University’s expansion into Manhattanville has yielded one truly impressive building: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The structure’s zig-zagging facade, made from reinforced concrete and glass, is “perfect for its site, location, and context, a tiny skyscraper that seems to fulfill many of the firm’s long-held design desires,” as Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange put it when the building opened in 2016.

9. Bronx Community College’s Meister Hall

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161 W 180th St
The Bronx, NY 10453

Bronx Community College’s campus in University Heights is an interesting collection of buildings, and one of New York City’s hidden architectural gems. It’s home to lovely turn-of-the-20th-century structures designed by Stanford White, as well as several Brutalist structures by Marcel Breuer. The Breuer buildings are unusual to find in these surroundings, but a must-visit for fans of the architect’s work.

Bronx Community College Breuer Building Meister Hall Vicente Muñoz

10. Cornell Tech’s Bloomberg Center

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2 W Loop Rd
New York, NY 10044

Another Morphosis joint, the centerpiece of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is “sleek and shiplike,” according to Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange. The facade is clad in bronze mesh, with lots of windows that make the whole thing rather transparent. It also happens to be very eco-friendly: “On its roof, a curvy canopy of 1,465 photovoltaic panels generate energy and shade the building in order to allow it to reach net-zero status,” per Lange’s review of the space.

11. Myrtle Hall

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Pratt Institute
Brooklyn, NY 11205

One of the newest buildings on Pratt’s Clinton Hill campus is Myrtle Hall, which was designed by WASA/Studio A and holds classrooms, open space, and the university’s student services. The six-story structure isn’t merely a university building, though; the side facing Myrtle Avenue brought public space and new businesses to the thoroughfare, connecting it to the larger neighborhood rather than isolating itself on a campus.

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1. New York University’s Bobst Library

Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012
A library building with several levels and staircases connecting them. Shutterstock

NYU’s main library, which anchors the southeastern corner of Washington Square Park, is not universally beloved; the AIA Guide to New York City calls the building “bulky and heavy-handed.” But the structure, designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster and opened in the 1970s, is perhaps the best-known of NYU’s buildings thanks to its hulking, red sandstone exterior. The interior has a light-filled atrium.

Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square S
New York, NY 10012

2. 41 Cooper Square

41 Cooper Sq, New York, NY 10003

In contrast to the Cooper Union’s 19th-century foundation building, the college’s recent addition—a nine-story building designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, which opened in 2009 and houses its school of engineering—is not a staid reminder of its 160-year-history. Instead, it looks to the future of the institution, with a “vertical piazza” at its center that’s meant to foster collaboration. The structure, which is clad in mesh, doesn’t blend in with its East Village neighbors, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; as the New York Times’s critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote when it opened, the building is “a bold architectural statement of genuine civic value.”

41 Cooper Sq
New York, NY 10003

3. The New School’s University Center

63 5th Ave, New York, NY 10003

The New School says its University Center, which opened in 2014 on the corner of 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, is “a striking embodiment of The New School’s mission of challenging the status quo”—and indeed, the glassy building is unlike other structures in the area. Designed by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the structure has a series of staircases inside that are used in a variety of ways (seating, traveling, etc.). The facade reflects that; windows are placed along the exterior in such a way to give a peek at the collaboration happening within.

63 5th Ave
New York, NY 10003

4. John Jay College of Criminal Justice

524 W 59th St, New York, NY 10019

SOM is also responsible for the new campus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Midtown, which was completed in 2011—10 years after the 9/11 attacks, which led to an uptick in enrollment and thus the need for more space. The additions include a glass-covered 14-story building and an expansive landscaped courtyard that makes the whole thing feel like an actual college campus. Those two elements are connected by a staircase that’s used for seating, among other things.

524 W 59th St
New York, NY 10019

5. The Juilliard School

60 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023
A glass and concrete building in New York City. Shutterstock

The Juilliard School’s HQ, designed by Pietro Belluschi, is one of Lincoln Center’s many midcentury gems. The building occupies the northwestern corner of the complex, and stands out thanks to its shape—“all cantilevers and boxy geometries,” as Paul Goldberger put it in the New Yorker—and its travertine exterior. In 2009, the building got a facelift courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXCollaborative, who added more space to the building and let light in via a wall of windows facing Broadway.

60 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

6. Columbia’s Low Memorial Library

Low Memorial Library, New York, NY 10027
Roman Revival building in the Columbia University Campus with a bronze statue of a woman on its steps. Dmitrii Sakharov/Shutterstock.com

Designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, & White, Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library is undoubtedly one of New York’s most notable buildings. Built in 1897, the 149,779-square-foot structure, modeled after Rome’s Pantheon, is located at the center of the school’s campus, and is topped by an all-granite rotunda (originally used as the main university reading room). The famous Alma Mater bronze statue by Daniel Chester French sits on the structure’s steps. The building served as the university’s library until 1934, and is now used as an administrative and event space.

Low Memorial Library
New York, NY 10027

7. City College’s Shepard Hall

Shepard Hall, New York, NY 10031

Architect George B. Post is responsible for this neo-Gothic confection on the City College campus in Harlem, distinguished by its facade made of Manhattan schist, the bedrock of the island (according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the schist was excavated from the land under the campus). White terra cotta provides a stunning contrast.

Shepard Hall
New York, NY 10031

8. Columbia University’s Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center

104 Haven Ave, New York, NY 10032

Columbia University’s expansion into Manhattanville has yielded one truly impressive building: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The structure’s zig-zagging facade, made from reinforced concrete and glass, is “perfect for its site, location, and context, a tiny skyscraper that seems to fulfill many of the firm’s long-held design desires,” as Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange put it when the building opened in 2016.

104 Haven Ave
New York, NY 10032

9. Bronx Community College’s Meister Hall

161 W 180th St, The Bronx, NY 10453
Bronx Community College Breuer Building Meister Hall Vicente Muñoz

Bronx Community College’s campus in University Heights is an interesting collection of buildings, and one of New York City’s hidden architectural gems. It’s home to lovely turn-of-the-20th-century structures designed by Stanford White, as well as several Brutalist structures by Marcel Breuer. The Breuer buildings are unusual to find in these surroundings, but a must-visit for fans of the architect’s work.

161 W 180th St
The Bronx, NY 10453

10. Cornell Tech’s Bloomberg Center

2 W Loop Rd, New York, NY 10044

Another Morphosis joint, the centerpiece of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is “sleek and shiplike,” according to Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange. The facade is clad in bronze mesh, with lots of windows that make the whole thing rather transparent. It also happens to be very eco-friendly: “On its roof, a curvy canopy of 1,465 photovoltaic panels generate energy and shade the building in order to allow it to reach net-zero status,” per Lange’s review of the space.

2 W Loop Rd
New York, NY 10044

11. Myrtle Hall

Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY 11205

One of the newest buildings on Pratt’s Clinton Hill campus is Myrtle Hall, which was designed by WASA/Studio A and holds classrooms, open space, and the university’s student services. The six-story structure isn’t merely a university building, though; the side facing Myrtle Avenue brought public space and new businesses to the thoroughfare, connecting it to the larger neighborhood rather than isolating itself on a campus.

Pratt Institute
Brooklyn, NY 11205