Diller Scofidio in Manhattan

Anatomical Amphitheater


As in drawings by the 16th-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, with depictions of flayed human bodies flaunting all their inner organs and workings, the recently opened Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center in New York City – Columbia University Medical Center’s new state-of-the-art medical and graduate education building – rids itself of all skin to expose cavities, bones, and tendons. Designed by the local firm Diller Scofidio Renfro – which boasts one of the most experimental and interesting resumés in the current American architectural scene – and developed by the dry and pragmatic consulting firm Gensler, the new Manhattan tower is in a way a pendant of another Columbia construction, one located fifty blocks downtown: the laboratories raised by Rafael Moneo in 2010. But whereas the latter – known as the Columbia University Northwest Corner Building – shows a high degree of formal and structural restraint, Diller Scofidio Renfro’s project is all exuberance. It has made a radical exhibition of the program the whole point of the project, hanging in seemingly implausible cantilevers the sloping auditoriums and the double-height communal areas, which are connected by an inner staircase, and ultimately forming an intentionally mannerist cascading profile. The section thus becomes the most important aspect of the 14-floor, 10,000-square-meter glass tower, dissected to both analogically and anatomically suggest the medical education program contained within.

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