The New York University Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life building is located on an exceptionally prominent site in Manhattan, on the south side of Washington Square Park and directly on axis with the termination of Fifth Avenue. When approaching from the north, the building is framed by the view through the Washington Memorial Arch. The Global Center is the first ground up new construction on the NYU campus in 20 years and it is the flagship project of the University's design excellence initiative to improve the architectural character of the campus and to enhance the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhoods.
The core mission was to bring together students and scholars from a variety of religious and academic backgrounds into one multi-faith and multi-function building in the heart of NYU. This project provides multi-denominational sacred spaces, including meeting rooms, meditation rooms, ablution rooms, liturgical storage and clergy offices, shared by over 60 faith-based campus groups. In addition, the building provides classrooms, a large lecture hall, music practice facilities for single musicians and the full university symphony, a 5,000 SF multi-purpose hall, and the Colloquium Room. The building's ground floor is the Catholic Center which had occupied the site since 1964 in the form of a two-story brutalist building.
Working with the client and local neighborhood stakeholder groups, our team secured a variance from the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals to build a well proportioned prismatic volume that exceeds the allowable zoning street wall height, but reduces the overall height and mass of the building resulting in consistent and efficient floor plates. The neighboring Kimmel Student Center is also owned by the client and they required that these two buildings be connected at every floor though the new building's exterior form and expression was to be distinct. The result is an appropriately scaled building that mediates between Kimmel and Judson while providing a proper street façade in the scale and spirit of the historic buildings facing the park.
The design needed to strongly express the spiritual mission of the building without relying on any singular religious iconography. We discovered that the 'tree of life' is a reappearing motif that resonates with nearly all religions and faiths. The façade is a continuous foliage of diverse densities; an abstraction of a growing tree produced through the arrangement of 12 uniquely designed laminated and perforated quartzite stone panels. This is the first application of this type of laminated stone technology in the United States. The laminating process, developed in collaboration with stone experts in Italy combines two 5/16" thick slabs of Quartzite with an adhesive layer, exponentially increasing the strength-not unlike the principle of plywood. This acquired strength allowed us to design large panels that could be significantly perforated without sacrificing the stone's structural properties. A quartzite stone was selected and quarried in India, processed in Italy and assembled onto pre-fabricated, unitized curtain wall frames in Montreal.