Construction on a new building for graduate students at the Columbia University Medical Center is slated to begin by the end of the year.
The $68 million facility will be located on Haven Avenue and 171st Street, two and a half blocks north of the heart of CUMC’s main campus, and will be used primarily for classroom and training space. Columbia representatives shared the plans with local residents on Wednesday at a meeting of the Land Use Committee of Community Board 12, which serves Washington Heights and Inwood.
“We have not done a lot with education spaces in terms of improvement. A lot of the spaces are 20, 30, 40 years old,” said Patrick Burke, assistant vice president for capital projects management at CUMC. “What we really wanted to do was create a state-of-the-art medical education building that will serve the very best and cutting-edge medical education that we can be doing.”
“A tremendous amount of diligence and research” went into the development process, Burke said, during which planners traveled to top medical school campuses. As a result, space for medical simulation—a key component of medical training for many other programs, but not one currently in use at CUMC—will be a high priority.
Medical simulation involves human patients, often actors, that express maladies for students to assess. The entire basement of the new building, in addition to parts of the upper floors, will contain mock operating and exam rooms for students to experience real clinical situations.
In addition to space for medical simulation and training, the building will include a 270-person auditorium and offices for administration. Two outdoor courtyards will be renovated and open to the public as part of the project.
The building will occupy two vacant lots at 106 Haven Ave., which are owned by Columbia, and an adjacent space. The building in that space, a five-story brick building that is used for University-related housing, will be demolished. The tenants have already been relocated, said Sandra Harris, assistant vice president for government and community affairs at CUMC.
Burke said that the exact start date of construction—which will take 42 months to complete—is dependent upon fundraising. Currently, the main financial donor for the project is Roy Vagelos, Physicians and Surgeons ’54, who donated $50 million to CUMC in 2010. His wife, Diana Vagelos, BC ’55, was the principal donor for Barnard’s Diana Center.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an architecture firm known for its geometric, modern style, will design the building, and the New York office of the international architecture firm Gensler, will serve as project architect.
Burke described the key architectural component as “a cascade,” with sharp angles and a textured glass exterior.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro has taken on a number of high-profile projects, including the High Line and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. It is also designing the Business School’s future home on Columbia’s Manhattanville campus.
At the meeting, however, some local residents were concerned that the design would be out of place with the surrounding neighborhood.
“It isn’t contextual with the rest of the neighborhood architecturally or physically,” Wayne Benjamin, chair of the land use committee, said. “That could mean it’s a masterpiece or it could have been the result of an internal dialogue. That’s wonderful, but they didn’t look at it left, right, across the street.”
“It doesn’t fit,” Agueda Ramirez, who lives across the street from the site, said. “The design is great—I’m not knocking the architect. That building just doesn’t fit on that street, and I know that street like the back of my hand.”
Diller Scofidio + Renfro was chosen in a competition judged by senior leadership at CUMC and Columbia Facilities, including Mark Wigley, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture; Philip Milstein, a Columbia trustee; and Vagelos.
Along with doubts about the design, some residents and board members expressed concern about maintaining their daily routines: Construction will make parts of a neighboring parking lot and the sidewalk inaccessible.
“We need to hear a lot more about how they plan to address those issues, because there are legitimate concerns there,” Steve Simon, a member of the land use committee, said. “They’re bringing a lot of people to a narrow street.”