Dear Commons Community,
Cornell Tech, a new joint venture between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, has begun to take shape on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The first buildings will be occupied in 2017. However, the spaces in these and in future buildings will bear little resemblance to other college facilities. There will be few classrooms, practically no faculty offices and lots of open spaces designed to foster collaboration among students and faculty. Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education comments:
“Walls divide people and define spaces. They restrict movement. They discourage exchange. And they’re a pain to move if your needs change, especially when they’re stuffed with cables, ducts, and other infrastructural accessories.
Mr. Huttenlocher is certain his needs will change [and] is overseeing the creation of an institution dedicated to technological innovation, academic experimentation, and the kind of serial flexibility those two principles require.
“My goal as the dean is to create an environment where everything can be repurposed.”
He and his team are in the tenuous middle stages of planning and building exactly that: the chameleon campus, a space where interchangeability permeates everything. As Cathy Dove, Cornell Tech’s founding vice president, puts it, “We want to embody the principle of iteration”
The fundamental question is:
“How do you create a new institution in an age where everything—office design, intelligent infrastructure, cloud computing, classroom technology—presents some opportunity to break with the past? What do you build? What do you wire? What kind of interactions do you encourage? Some institutions might create committees to try to anticipate specific changes. Cornell Tech is determined to do the opposite. Those responsible for building the campus of the future won’t pretend to know what the future holds. They only hope they’re building something malleable enough to handle it.”
The article goes on to describe the first academic building. The second, third, and fourth stories of the five-level structure are undefined, dominated by large, uninterrupted spaces. Classrooms? Faculty offices? The building will have little of the former and none of the latter. Instead there are “office zones,” which will be filled with workstations; those seeking some form of enclosure can enter a “huddle room,” “swing space, “collab” room, or “hub lounge.” The entrepreneurial patois, conspicuous as it sounds, reflects a real attempt to break down traditional academic boundaries.
All of this sounds most interesting and a great place to learn, teach, and share.