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Columbia Receives NY's First LEED Platinum for Neighborhoods

By Paula Melton
June 28, 2012
This rendering shows 130th Street in West Harlem as it will look after development of the new Manhattanville Campus at Columbia University.
Courtesy Columbia University
This rendering shows 130th Street in West Harlem as it will look after development of the new Manhattanville Campus at Columbia University.

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Columbia University’s Manhattanville Campus—a 17-acre neighborhood plan in West Harlem—has achieved New York State’s first Platinum certification under the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system. The plan, designed in collaboration with SOM and Renzo Piano, is unusual for a college campus in that it integrates with and welcomes the surrounding community. Demolition and construction are well under way and feature a variety of innovative waste and pollution management techniques.

Piloting LEED-ND

The plan was initially used to help pilot LEED-ND, explains Philip Pitruzzello, vice president for Columbia University Manhattanville development. “From the very beginning, we were looking at the neighborhood in a holistic way and a sustainable way,” he says, so when the opportunity arose to work with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the team was ready. “We have been working with them for a while in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund to achieve something really terrific with LEED-ND.” In part because of their input, city-friendly features like smart location and transportation linkages were included in the rating system.

In its turn, the campus plan incorporates ideas that are more difficult to achieve in dense urban areas. “We’re building about two acres of parks and open space,” he adds, “and we also have a significant tree-planting program on streets and in our open spaces.”

Public space on a private campus

The campus plan, which redevelops an established neighborhood, initially involved a high-profile and controversial eminent domain case led by the State of New York. A variety of the measures adopted not only increase the sustainability of the campus but also attempt to heal wounds left by this legal battle. Pedestrians from the surrounding community will still move freely throughout the campus along walks that follow the same pathways as the neighborhood’s former streets, and the plan features central open spaces that will effectively be a public park.

Clean construction

Working with the Environmental Defense Fund, the university has also developed elaborate “clean construction” practices that include intensive management of waste, pollution, noise, and pests. Thirty-seven buildings have been demolished so far, and 90 percent of the materials have been diverted from the landfill. “We proved that it could be done economically,” says Pitruzzello. “Our contractors don’t see it as a liability; they see it as a benefit.”

In another unusual move, the wheels of all construction vehicles are hosed down, “mitigating that dust and dirt before it leaves the site so it doesn’t get on the streets,” Pitruzzello explains. Additionally, a noise abatement program includes adjustable backup alarms that become quieter when there is less ambient noise.

“In urban areas, there is always a concern about pests and rodent population, so we address it proactively with everything from trash cleanup and good site housekeeping to inspections by a rodentologist who is an expert in controlling rodent populations,” he says.

The buildings

Construction of the Renzo Piano-designed Jerome L. Greene Science Center has already begun;. This building, which will house the interdisciplinary Mind Brain Behavior Initiative, is slated for completion in 2015. The campus will also feature a performing arts center, a new Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed home for the Columbia Business School, and an academic conference center for major symposia. The Columbia Science, Math and Engineering Secondary School—a public high school supported by the university—will also move to Manhattanville, where older students will have access to all of the new campus’s facilities.

Campus development will continue through 2030.


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