Columbia University’s Medical Center Leads Packs In A Cluster Of NYC Design Award Winners

In a city of striking buildings, some stand out more than others. AIA’s annual design awards gave props to some of the best.

By Jeff Vasishta March 10, 2017
Image courtesy of Iwan Baan / NY Curbed

In a city where iconic buildings fill the sky like flocks of migrating birds, New York is always in the mix at the AIA’s Annual Design Awards. This year was no exception, with cluster of awards going to the Big Apple’s most innovative new buildings.

The top prize went to Columbia University’s new cascading medical building. When it was being constructed, onlookers may have been forgiven wondering if the contractors were possibly reading the plans upside down. The eye catching zig-zag shape is unlike anything most people would have seen before. Curbed NY reported that the site of the education center was once occupied by a six-story townhouse which the university owned. Once it was demolished, the  relatively narrow lot on which the new building was to be constructed was a challenge for the architecture team of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler.

Building up was the best solution, using a vertical staircase to run the length of the building which interweaves between study and social spaces throughout this 100,000 square foot building.

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“Space matters for structured and informal learning,” Elizabeth Diller, one of the founding partners at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said in a statement. “To support Columbia’s progressive medical education program, we designed a building that will nurture collaboration.”

The design awards, however, were not simply meted out for aesthetically quirky or unique structures. Every project was selected based on its “design quality, response to its context and community, program resolution, innovation, thoughtfulness, and technique.”

That left the door open to all manner of different creations and so, suitably New York’s winners were as diverse as they were innovative.

Amongst the Merit Award winners were Long Island City’s Sculpture Center by Andrew Berman Architect, which fuses an old school industrial red facade with modern interiors. The neighboring glassy towers also add to the juxtaposition of design styles at play.

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Greenpoint’s A/D/O building has certain similarities in that nArchitects took the shell of a grafitti-ed red brick commercial building (the former Brooklyn Night Bazaar) and redesigned it into workspace and design collaboration center.

“We chose to create variable connections between gastro, event, design, exhibition and retail spaces,” nArchitects principal Eric Bunge explained of the design. The 23,000-square-foot space consists of a design shop, a fabrication studio, and a restaurant run by Scandinavian chefs Fredrik Berselius and Claus Meyer.

Not to be outdone, The Bronx’s Public Safety Answering Center II is a striking metallic modernist structure which is actually a call center for the city’s 911 operators. Designed by starchitects, its unlike anything the Bronx has ever seen.

Proving that size doesn’t matter, one of architects’ WORKac provisos from developers Knightsbridge Properties, in reconfiguring Tribeca’s Stealth Building at 93 Reade Street into four apartments, was to add a penthouse which couldn’t be seen from the street. The building sits within a historic district and so pedestrian foot traffic had to be oblivious from the hidden glass triplex perched atop the roof.

Other NYC award winners include The Jewish Museum’s exhibit of over 180 rare works from French designer and architect Pierre Chareau and the alternative concept of Penn Station as envisioned by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti. They are among full list of all NY Award winners and notable mentions  being celebrated by AIA New York’s Center for Architecture.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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