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The Innovation Campus: Building Better Ideas

Cornell Tech: Creative Collisions

The first three buildings on Cornell Tech’s 12-acre campus on Roosevelt Island won’t open until next year, but their structure is already becoming visible. A transparent masters studio for collaborative study will be the first thing visitors see as they stroll from the subway or tram along Tech Walk, the central avenue of a project with an estimated completion date of 2043.

The studio is in the Bloomberg Center, named to acknowledge a $ 100 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, matching New York City’s contribution toward the total cost for phase one, which is estimated at $ 800 million. A sculptural staircase, jutting provocatively from the side of the building, was designed to encourage students and faculty members to take the stairs to their work space instead of the shorter elevator route between front door and desk. So much of contemporary design for innovation involves adding friction to people’s work lives, as unexpected encounters (with people, with different spaces, with art) are supposed to lead to unexpected ideas.


Rendering of the Bloomberg Center and the Tech Walk at Cornell Tech. Credit Morphosis

“Being in bigger interactive spaces encourages expansive thinking, while being in a box of a room encourages box thinking,” said Dan Huttenlocher, founding dean and vice provost at Cornell Tech. “Sometimes you need to be in a box to concentrate, but to always sit in a little box is a problem.”

No one has a private office at the Bloomberg Center, the primary academic building, and opaque walls are few. The only spaces faculty members can truly call their own are lockable storage cabinets, with carts for equipment. Traditional classrooms, too, are few — the Cornell Tech curriculum privileges projects over lectures. Instead, there will be options so that people can choose how they like to work, from open-plan spaces by the windows, to a roof deck with a garden, to huddle rooms for groups of five or less.

“As you begin to understand how people work together, there is an ideal size of collaboration,” said Ung-Joo Scott Lee, principal at Morphosis, the architects. “Beyond five people it is too much of a crowd.”

If this sounds like Silicon Valley, it should. “We looked at Pixar in Emeryville very carefully, along with Bloomberg L.P. and Google, who have sizable office space in New York and understand the constraints of the urban environment,” Mr. Huttenlocher said. (Until it moves onto its own campus, Cornell Tech is headquartered in the Google building in Chelsea — every designer working for a university, it seems, has taken a swing through Mountain View.)

“Pixar had to bring together very different cultures and get them to work as one, the creative and the business side, but also creative and tech people,” Mr. Huttenlocher said.

One of the things the Cornell Tech team most appreciated about Pixar was its “surprise” spaces. The Morphosis building will have a series of unexpected rooms, focused on art, including a round one built to hold abstract murals by Ilya Bolotowsky salvaged from the 1940s hospital demolished to build the campus.


Lassonde Studios’ lofts (shown in a rendering) at the University of Utah are meant to foster communal creativity; students can also opt to live in a pod.

University of Utah: Living Over the Store

“Live. Create. Launch.” That’s the tagline for the University of Utah’s $ 45 million Lassonde Studios, opening this month. The residential component has been absorbed in

to this live-work building, anticipating the early lifestyle of dot-com employees, whose living quarters usually resemble walk-in closets. The Utah version is more plush, however: Residents, who can be graduate or undergraduate and in any major, can choose pods (cubbylike rooms with built-in bed, desk, storage and TV), lofts in an industrial vernacular (beds in a communal setting with shared kitchen, lounge and bathrooms) or more traditional single or double rooms.

Different floors have different themes, based on Utah’s existing strengths: one for games and digital media, one for adventure and gear, one for design and the arts, one for global impact and sustainability. The ground-floor “garage” has workshops equipped with 3-D printers, laser cutters and other prototyping tools, available to anyone at the university and staffed by work-study students. All the programs offered by the Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute, the division that is building the studios, are extracurricular and interdisciplinary; a few degrees are offered in partnership with the business school.

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