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NYU's glittering $1 billion glass building will put school on display

The transparent building at 181 Mercer Street in New York is designed to make the school more inclusive.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   15-12-2016

Modern all-glass design for New York University's new 181 Mercer Street campus in Manhattan. Photo STUDIOAMD

New York University is planning the largest expansion in its history. It unveiled plans this month for a new one-billion-dollar, glittering all-glass 23-storey academic building in New York's bohemian Greenwich Village area, often described as Manhattan's neighborhood of musicians and artists.

Significantly, NYU is embarking on the aggressive expansion at a time when the university's popularity and rankings are on a major upswing. Last year NYU received 64,000 applications for undergraduate study, the most of any private university, according to media reports. The project, which would expand New York University's footprint by 40 percent over the next 20 years, is aimed at accommodating a booming student body and competing for money and prestige with other US universities.

According to the architectural and construction drawings, the 181 Mercer Street building will have 60 new classrooms, dormitories, an underground gym with a six-lane swimming pool, three theaters, including a traditional proscenium theater that has 350 seats, an orchestra ensemble space, practice rooms and offices.

In 2015, NYU president Andrew Hamilton, a world-renowned British chemist, replaced John Sexton as the president of NYU and pressed on with his predecessor's ambitious expansion plans. For years, the expansion has pitted NYU against preservationists and angry neighbors. A court decision in June last year finally allowed the university to go ahead with its dream project.

Hamilton said the building is intended to relieve “eye-popping” crowding of campus buildings in the neighborhood and to enhance the school’s theater and music programs.

To critics, Hamilton likes to point out that NYU only has 160 academic square feet per student, compared to Columbia University’s 326, Harvard’s 673 and Yale’s 866. By 2031, NYU aims to have 240 academic square feet per student.

"The project at Mercer Street and the renovation of an iconic building in Brooklyn on Jay Street for the Tandon School of Engineering are the two biggest projects going on at the moment. I have no intention of slowing down that momentum," Hamilton told "Crain's New York Business" magazine.

The new 735,000 square feet NUY compound at Mercer Street will also have a green roof, with a 275-foot tower for faculty housing and three smaller towers with housing for 420 freshmen. In an innovative touch, the 181 Mercer St design puts the hallways and staircases along the outside of the building, providing a glimpse into NYU student life from the street.

"It is a shift from an opaque box to something that is very much transparent to every pedestrian and everyone in the neighborhood," Richard Maimon, a partner at Kieran Timberlake, the firm designing the glass building, told "The Wall Street Journal."
 

Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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