Cornell Tech Campus, Phase 1
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Stores and treats an estimated 1.9 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually before it is released into the East River through a network of biofiltration gardens and infiltration trenches.
- Protects against flooding by elevating primary building entrances above the 500-year floodplain through reusing excavated material to raise the site as much as 11 ft in some locations, far exceeding New York City Building Code standards.
- Generates an average of 772 MWh per year of solar energy, saving the amount of carbon equivalent to the amount sequestered by 668 acres of forest.
- Encourages recreational and social activity on site, with 44% of 45 surveyed Cornell Tech faculty and staff spending time outside daily and 40% spending time outside at least once per week. 84% of 45 surveyed faculty and staff reported that when they spend time outdoors on the site they spend more than 15 minutes.
- Encourages public use, with 93% of 14 surveyed visitors reporting having no affiliation with Cornell Tech and 64% reporting living outside of Roosevelt Island.
- Provides aesthetic and scenic value, with #cornelltechcampus appearing in a least 126 social media posts since the site’s opening. The site’s views, landscape, and architecture are represented in 44% of posts that feature views of the city skyline, 63% that feature vegetation, and 59% that feature the campus building facades.
- Improved visibility of the East River and the Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn skylines from the site by 26% as compared with views from the former hospital complex.
- Supported the creation of a new ferry stop with an average weekday ridership of 317 users and an average weekend ridership of 388 users, generating approximately $1.26 million in revenue from 2017 through the beginning of 2021.
- Contributed to increased property values at Roosevelt Island by an average of 4% between 2014 and 2018, when adjusted for inflation.
- Reused 7,000 cu yds of excavated soil on-site, saving almost $1 million in material, labor, and transportation costs.
- Created 9 permanent jobs for maintenance, management, and development of the open space, along with an average of 249 temporary jobs for open space and building construction each year between 2014 and 2020.
At a Glance
James Corner Field Operations
Former Land Use
Greyfield (former City Hospital)
2 West Loop Road
New York, New York 10044
12.5 acres (total site area); 3.5 acres of open space (Phase 1); 6.5 acres of interim landscape (to be developed in Phases 2 and 3)
Phase 1: 2017; Phase 2 to be completed: 2027; Phase 3 to be completed 2037
A 12.5-acre former hospital on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in Manhattan was transformed into an applied sciences and engineering satellite campus for Cornell University with a half-mile of water frontage in the middle of New York City’s East River. The first phase of the project consists of 3.5 acres of campus lawn and amenities and an additional 6.5 acres of low maintenance, interim landscape to be formalized and developed with new campus buildings in later project phases. The campus lawn features pockets of green space between buildings, linked together by an internal path network, that function as social gathering spaces, recreation areas, and outdoor laboratories. A permeable perimeter with many entrances and wide public paths integrate the site into the larger Roosevelt Island residential community. The tech-inspired campus incorporates innovative design strategies to enhance sustainability, combining stormwater management and rainwater harvesting systems, smart site furnishings, and native plantings to reduce runoff, energy use, and water consumption. The waterfront site was designed to be resilient to future flood events; excavated materials from the construction phase were reused to lift the lawn and building entrances above the 500-year flood elevation. The project’s responsive and high-performance landscape reflects Cornell Tech’s mission to promote community sustainability and resilience through informed stewardship.
- The Phase 1 area of the site has 3.5 acres of open space and a half-mile internal path network that weaves together 5 campus buildings: the Bloomberg Center (one of the largest academic buildings in the world designed for net-zero energy consumption), the Tata Innovation Center, “The House” residence hall (the tallest residential passive high-rise in the world), a hotel, and a central utility plant.
- The interim landscape area of the site provides an additional 6.5 acres of open space with a series of 5 topographic mounds sculpted from 7,000 cu yds of excavated fill reused from the Phase 1 construction site and connected by a quarter-mile of informal trails. The elevation of the mounds allows for an almost 360-degree viewshed of the surrounding Manhattan and Queens skylines and creates a unique topographic richness. This open space is an interim condition that will be developed in Phases 2 and 3.
- 9 paths connect the campus to the surrounding public sidewalk, creating an open and accessible environment. Several of these paths are marked with signage that welcomes visitors to the Cornell Tech Campus and encourages public use of the open space.
- The quarter-mile-long Tech Walk is the central spine of the internal campus path network. A series of social nodes are located along the Tech Walk, including an outdoor classroom space with amphitheater seating, a café, and ping pong tables. Primary building entrances also open onto the Tech Walk, allowing campus users to move seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces.
- The Campus Plaza, the central node of the Tech Walk, provides almost a quarter-acre of multi-use gathering space which can be programmed for a variety of events and activities. The Plaza also features several sets of movable tables and chairs.
- The Campus Lawn, a half-acre green space planted with turf, is a favorite spot for playing frisbee, walking dogs, and having lunchtime picnics. Concrete benches interspersed between 20 evenly-spaced trees provide seating and shade along the perimeter.
- A 40,000-gallon rainwater harvesting tank installed under the Bloomberg Center collects rainfall from the roof of the building, which is then filtered and treated with UV rays. The tank has enough capacity to supply up to 60% of non-potable water demand for the building and irrigate 96% of the campus landscape.
- A network of 6 biofiltration areas store and treat stormwater before it enters the East River, including 4 above-ground rain gardens totaling 3,800 sf and 2 subterranean infiltration trenches totaling 5,500 sf. Any overflow from the rainwater harvesting tank is directed into the infiltration trenches.
- 80 closed-loop geothermal wells, each 400 ft beneath the Campus Lawn, intercept water-filled fissures in the local bedrock, allowing for highly efficient and cost-effective heating and cooling for the Bloomberg Center building.
- A 2,093-panel photovoltaic array spans the roofs of the Bloomberg Center and Tata Innovation Center, transforming liminal space on these buildings into productive environments that generate 772 MWh of solar energy on average each year. A small 1,500-sf green roof is also located on top of the Tata Innovation Center. It uses a palette of low-maintenance native plants to help cool the southeast edge of the roof.
- The planting palette features native species of shrubs and trees, many of which — like sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and moraine sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’) — have red fall foliage to compliment Cornell’s school colors. Over 100 trees planted on-site bring lushness and shade into the urban environment. Throughout the landscape, plantings are combined with boulders, rocks, and gravel to emulate a riparian landscape — a reference to the interface between Roosevelt Island and the East River.
- Site furnishings include a wayfinding system that incorporates Cornell’s branding to provide directional information at 13 different points throughout the campus, a system of 32 smart overhead pedestrian lights that use motion-sensing to reduce energy consumption, custom-made precast concrete seat walls with built-in ground-level lighting along the Tech Walk, an exercise circuit featuring 5 different machines distributed around the perimeter of the campus, and other amenities like bike racks and trash receptacles.
- Create public open space for Cornell Tech students and the broader Roosevelt Island community.
- Support resiliency and plan for the effects of climate change by raising the level of the site above the 500-year floodplain.
- Reduce the use of non-renewable energy and reliance on outside energy sources with solar and geothermal energy.
- Increase stormwater storage capacity and treat runoff on-site.
- Diversify institutional and community amenities and increase visitorship to Roosevelt Island by introducing new academic, entrepreneurial, and recreational activities including local events, conferences, lectures, and exhibitions, all supported by the landscape.
- Encourage public interaction with the campus by creating a permeable perimeter and publicly accessible amenities.
- Create sustainable jobs through local partnerships with technology-based businesses and entrepreneurs.
- Promote environmentally friendly design with a resilient landscape that complements the energy-efficient buildings on campus.
- During periods of heavy rain, the rate of infiltration in the biofiltration gardens was not rapid enough, causing ponding and overflowing. Pockets of loose gravel were added in areas where drain pipes empty directly into the biofiltration gardens’ structural soil. These gravel pockets increase permeability and allow for localized higher flow rates during heavy rain events while also allowing the structural soil to retain nutrients. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21, on-campus occupancy was reduced, and non-potable water demand (for flushing toilets and urinals) was lower than expected, resulting in the rainwater harvesting tank filling up and overflowing. The overflow mechanism on the rainwater harvesting tank directs excess water to the biofiltration gardens, where the soil mix had to be adjusted to allow for increased absorption.
- The interim landscape area of the site with the mounded topography was intended to be established as a flowering meadow over a two-year time period. Instead, the area was planted as a lawn to give it a more immediately “finished” appearance. It will now take more time and effort for the lawn to be converted to meadow than it would have had the area been left undisturbed.
- Stone mulch from the tree pits was being scattered onto nearby paths by children in the neighborhood because it was loose and easy to kick around, which left the tree pits depleted and necessitated continual maintenance to keep the paths clear. The stone mulch was removed and replaced with wood mulch to mitigate this issue.
Plants: Halka Nursery, Elhannon Nursery, Rivendell Nursery, Coles Nursery, North Fork Boutique Gardens
CIP (Hardscape): Triad
Granite Stone Pavers: ABC Stone
Bench Light: LED Linear
Pole Light: Philips Lumec
Bollard Light: ERCO
Custom Wood Benches: Landscape Forms
Bench Wood (radiata pine): Kebony
Precast Concrete: Sun Precast
Irrigation Controller: Rain Master Control
Irrigation Valves: Rain Bird
Rain Sensor/Sprinkler: Hunter Industries
Flow Sensor: Irritol Controllers
Custom Stainless Steel Trench Drain: Johnson Screens
Slot Drain (Model KS100): ACO Drain
Area Drain (Model Z1735): Zurn
Drainage Mat (Model Site Drain Strip 6024): American Wick Drain
Boulders/Rocks/Stone/Mulch: Tilcon (Clinton Point Quarry)
Outdoor Exercise Equipment: Sportsplay
Guardrails: Risa Management Corp.
Handrails: Wagner Architectural Systems
Planting Soil: Structural Soil (The Dirt Company)
Landscape Architect: James Corner Field Operations
Master Planner: Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP (SOM)
Clients: Cornell University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
Irrigation: Northern Designs LLC
MEP: Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineer: Philip Habib & Associates
Signage Designer: Pentagram
Soil Consultant: Craul Land Scientists, LLC
Lighting Consultant: Brandston Partnership Inc.
Cost Estimator: Gleed
Expeditor: Jam Consultants, Inc.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architecture team developed the open space master plan for the project and served as the landscape architect of record. The landscape architecture team worked closely with the master architect to integrate the open space with the campus buildings and create a synergistic relationship between interior and exterior spaces and programming. The approach was innovative, with the landscape architecture team leading the development of the campus master plan and architects working within designated “scoops” of land within which they have complete freedom, rather than a typical approach of having landscape architects simply “fill in” the areas between buildings.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Jennifer Birkeland, RLA, LEED AP, FAAR, Assistant Professor, Cornell University
Research Assistant: Kevin Kim, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Master of Regional Planning Candidate, Cornell University
Research Assistant: Jeanette Petti, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Master of Regional Planning Candidate, Cornell University
Firm Liaison: Biyoung Heo, RLA, Senior Associate, James Corner Field Operations
Firm Liaison: Karen Tamir, RLA, ASLA, Principal, James Corner Field Operations
Birkeland, Jennifer, Kevin Kim, and Jeanette Petti. “Cornell Tech Campus, Phase 1.” Landscape Performance Series, Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2021. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1780