A Beautiful Campus Dedicated to Tech Has Opened in New York. Get Inspired With This Tour. On New York's Roosevelt Island, Cornell Tech is connecting up-and-coming talent with companies and organizations in need of tech solutions.
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It’s pretty easy to dream big when you have an amazing view of the New York skyline. And students of Cornell University's program dedicated to technology have plenty of inspiration at its brand-new campus.
Located on Roosevelt Island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, the new Cornell Tech campus is a place where graduate students, researchers and faculty live, study and collaborate. It features an academic building, a residential high-rise and a building called The Bridge that includes lab and makerspace areas as well as office spaces leased by established companies.
At The Bridge, these companies in residence will work with teams of Cornell students to develop and prototype new products and technologies to bring to market. Cornell Tech also allows students to pursue their own startups, with five to six companies spinning out of the institution every year since its founding in 2011.
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This is a big deal for New York. When we think of hubs across America, we view Silicon Valley as the tech capital. But the Big Apple has always been a place where people of all backgrounds have converged and developed new ideas across nearly every industry, from fashion to finance to advertising. As tech increasingly shapes those industries and others, the so-called tech sector is growing its footprint in New York. The new Cornell Tech campus aims to serve as a focal point where academia, governments, nonprofits and companies can develop tech solutions together.
“If you go to almost any angel investor, VC, startup accelerator, they’re telling those founders, ‘Get to know your customers. Get out there with you customers. Find your passionate early users,’” says Cornell Tech Founding Dean and Vice Provost Dan Huttenlocher, who also serves on the board of directors for Amazon, Corning and the MacArthur Foundation. “In New York, you can get to your passionate early users riding up and down the subway. You don’t have to sit in traffic for seven hours going from one suburb to another in Silicon Valley.”
Cornell Tech formed in 2011 when Cornell University and the Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology won the City of New York’s Applied Sciences competition to create a graduate campus. The two universities have partnered to offer two programs based on health tech and connective media.
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For the past five years, the Cornell Tech campus was located in Google’s New York City building. This fall, 30 faculty members and 300 full-time graduate students occupy the first phase of the Roosevelt Island campus. Additional phases of development and growth are slated through the year 2043.
In advance of the Sept. 13 dedication ceremony, Cornell Tech opened its doors for a media tour to reveal its plans for the new facilities. Click through to see how the space supports collaboration and innovation among members of this new community.
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Fostering community by subway, ferry, tram and more
Around 14,000 New Yorkers reside on Roosevelt Island, located in the East River directly between Midtown Manhattan and Queens. The island is accessible by car, bus, subway, ferry and even a tramway (from which this photo was taken), but many New Yorkers have never been there. Cornell Tech aims to serve as a destination for neighbors as well as visitors from the tech and business communities in the city.
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A trio of new buildingsOur first impression walking around the brand-new campus was that we felt like we were Sims avatars in an architectural rendering. Although phase one of the campus is still partially under construction, its three buildings are occupied. The House, on the far left, is a 26-story residential building that contains 350 units for students, staff and faculty. The Bridge, in the center, is a place where established companies and students develop products and services together. The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, right, is an academic building.
The Great Lawn -- for now
In the years ahead, Cornell Tech will build more facilities on this green space, but in the meantime, it’s part of the public park surrounding the campus. Anyone is free to grab a coffee at the Bloomberg Center, do some work or meet with students or faculty in the outdoor space. As part of the school’s sustainability mission, the Great Lawn will not be regularly manicured. Water from Bloomberg will be recycled to irrigate it, and wildflowers will be able to grow freely, turning it into a meadow.
The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center
This academic building houses an auditorium, classrooms, work areas for faculty, staff and researchers and a public cafe. The goal for the Bloomberg Center is to be a “net zero footprint” building, meaning that over time, the amount of energy it generates will cancel out the amount it consumes.
An artistic reminder of campus values
As researchers, faculty and staff ascend to the upper floors of the Bloomberg building to the various work and collaboration areas, they see the work of British artist Matthew Richie on the walls surrounding the staircase. Richie titled this piece Everything that Rises Must Converge as a way of “encouraging Cornell Tech students and faculty to view their own research as part of the larger human project,” according to a placard on the wall. Richie combines abstract imagery with symbols and notations from different systems of thought in science, math and technology. The installation serves as a reminder that the facility is designed to foster interdisciplinary thinking about the societal implications of digital tech.
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When research calls
The upper three floors of the four-story building are all open-plan space. The Bloomberg Center doesn’t have private offices for researchers, faculty members, PhD students and staff, but all of the faculty have assigned meeting rooms (without locks) to ensure they always have space to meet with their research teams without the hassle of booking. “Research is very hard to do on a schedule,” Huttenlocher explains.
A peek into more collaborative space
From computer scientists and engineers to those focused on business, law, policy, ethics and design, members of the Cornell Tech community of various background collaborate here. Cornell Tech has created open spaces like this one in the Bloomberg Center to discourage people from congregating based on their disciplines. Groups in different parts of the building can see each other, but some spaces are closed off to keep the volume down and promote focus.
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Cornell Tech’s open desk space areas don’t look much different than your typical office setup. This room in the Bloomberg Center is a blank slate where all types of students and researchers can go to focus. The view of the river and Manhattan outside make up for the lackluster interior, though the windows aren’t as large as they might have been, designed to conserve energy in the sustainable Bloomberg Center. In the corridor, faculty and researchers can temporarily store belongings in wooden lockers.
Tech startup vibes
The otherwise drab open desk space area contains this private phone booth (the white pod near the glass) for video and telephone calls. Many tech startups are incorporating these types of areas for private calls, but this one really is a booth, rather than a small room.
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Bridge symbolism galore
From this vantage point of the campus, you can see the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in the background between the Bloomberg Center (left) and the building called “The Bridge” (right). The Queensboro Bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens and runs above Roosevelt Island.
‘The Bridge’ itself
The six-story Bridge Building is designed to showcase the views that Roosevelt Island offers. The island, located in the middle of the East River, is long and narrow, and the building’s architects designed it so that water is visible on multiple sides. The Bridge features retail space, office space and space for academic instruction. The companies that have leased space in The Bridge so far include Two Sigma Investments, Citigroup and Ferrero International. Yes, you read that right -- the chocolate company. Even chocolatiers need tech, and Cornell Tech students and investors will collaborate with the company to prototype potential new products and packaging, as well as conduct research into branding, marketing and customer preferences.
Stairway to industry
The main staircase in the lobby of The Bridge reminds us of a Silicon Valley tech startup (and to some extent, an Apple Store). Leased office space occupies most of the upper floors of the building -- most of which is already claimed. There’s also a makerspace that features tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers.
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A ‘studio’ with a river view
Cornell Tech students spend one-third of their time working together on what the school calls “studio-based core curriculum.” One studio space, shown here, is where students collaborate with members of the tech community, nonprofits and government agencies, as well as Cornell Tech post-doc researchers. They work in teams to create new products for established companies -- and in some cases, startups of their own. This studio space allows for multiple configurations: Teams can separate into tables or give presentations. They receive feedback from industry practitioners in front of their peers so everyone can learn from the critiques.
“We combine academic fundamentals with real-world impact. Real-world impact is a mix of what we call developing an entrepreneurial mindset, building and prototyping real digital products and services and understanding the societal and ethical implications of what you’re doing,” Huttenlocher says. “When we say entrepreneurial mindset, we really mean the mindset of thinking big, of not being constrained by what you’re certain you can get done.”
Help starting up and spinning out
Cornell Tech gives students resources to help them spin out their own companies. The university requires that they go through a set of clinics (not for credit) on the subject of launching a startup, and once they complete this step, Cornell helps them try to get connections to early-stage investors. Cornell also allows them to enter a program called Startup Awards, through which the university may put philanthropic funds toward a roughly $100,000 investment in the budding company. Huttenlocher clarifies that Cornell does not own the intellectual property of tuition-paying master's students, but it does negotiate a stake in companies spun out by university-paid PhD researchers.
A room with a view
Two-thirds of Cornell Tech’s students live on campus in The House, a residential building. But don’t mistake this for a dorm room: Graduate students, post-docs and researchers live in rooms like these, and there’s no dining hall on the premises. Out this window, there's a prime view of the Queensboro Bridge.
A typical studio kitchen
Students pay rent to live in the House (depending on unit size), but they get free internet access. The stove seen here is electric -- there’s no gas in the building. The school is committed to sustainability, and to keep residents mindful of their energy usage, electricity is the only utility they’re responsible for paying for individually.
Another artistic reminder of values
A microscopic photograph of a carbon molecule doubles as an artistic mural in this residential corridor. The theme of carbon and energy is big at Cornell Tech -- the school is focused on both applied sciences and sustainability.
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The ‘River Room’ common area
This corner of the “River Room” on the 26th floor (the roof) provides panoramic views of New York City. Here, students can host private meals, have casual conversations or watch some TV.
A more college-like rec room
This area, also on the top floor, is another place where students can mingle.
Not just any roof of just any ‘House’
Finally, here’s the view from the top. Residents can look out at New York City landmarks such as The World Trade Center, the UN building, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building. On the island below, you can see the Bloomberg Center, its roof covered by solar panels.
OK, one more
Here’s a panoramic view that includes Queens and Manhattan, along with the southern tip of Roosevelt Island (and the solar-panel-covered Bridge building roof) below.