Cornell University has several outposts in New York: the Weill Cornell Medical School on the east side of Manhattan, Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island and the Architecture School in Lower Manhattan. The Midtown Professional Education Center is the heart of Cornell’s midtown initiative. Located in the landmarked General Electric Building and adjacent to St. Bartholomew’s Church, the new center blends the best of New York’s history with contemporary learning and teaching.
The design team, featuring Mitchell Giurgola Architects LLP, was asked to create a multi-functional learning environment in an 80-year-old landmark building. Specifically, the Physicians Assistant Program and the Professional studies programs both needed a new home—a home that could serve each of them independently in the same space, at different times. The space would also serve as the meeting space for university leadership in midtown Manhattan. Program spaces included classrooms, offices, training rooms, conference rooms, meeting and event spaces.
Located in an office building, it was critical to create a unified identity and academic environment while addressing the requirements of the individual spaces. With a program too large to fit on one floor, the Education Center occupies the ninth and 10th floors with an interconnecting stair to maintain the faculty and student connection.
To maintain an open and expansive feel in the space planning, circulation paths were designed to provide long views, directed at glazed interior walls or exterior windows. This allows users to peek into or through classrooms or other spaces and to always have a direct connection to sunlight. Wherever feasible, rooms have glazed walls along the corridor not only for the purpose of sharing natural light, but also to reveal the activities within the classrooms, conference rooms and collaborative spaces, bringing energy to the entire center.
The axis of the two entrances off the elevator lobby penetrates through the entire ninth floor and creates a sense of welcoming and connectedness. To the west is the reception station with the Cornell red patterned glass behind it and the silhouetted outline of the large exterior window behind the glass. To the east, one sees through the center of the lounge/collaboration space with leaf patterned glass, to the communicating glass stair with its bright angular lighting pattern.
The Physicians Assistants program is an intensive 2.5-year curriculum where students spend their first year in the same classrooms eight hours a day, five days a week. It was critical that the design provide a variety of study and social spaces outside the teaching environment for student wellbeing. Throughout the ninth-floor circulation, tiled recesses with bright blue benches and mini desks allow students additional places to work either alone or in pairs in off moments between classes. Access to views, natural light, natural materials and vegetation all help foster this healthy environment.
The Midtown Professional Education Center will impact the Cornell University community, the midtown business community and other tenants in the landmarked art deco General Electric building. The project demonstrates the flexibility of older historic buildings to be transformed to contemporary use and promotes design as a tool for well-being.
PHOTOS: Albert Vecerka/Esto
Double-glazed Interior Glass Partition: Infinium
Indoor Green Wall: LiveWall
Laminated Art Glass: Carvart
Tempered Art Glass: Skyline Design
Wood Dowel Grille Ceiling and LightFrame Ceiling: Decoustics
Edge Grain Ash Wood Floor: Kaswell Flooring Systems
Sheet Floor: Wineo
Fire-rated Glass Partitions: TGP
Three-coat Paint: Master Coatings Technologies Scuffmaster
Porcelain Tile: Electra Grande from Stone Source
Ceiling Panels: Soundscapes from Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions