Pioneering the Net Zero Standard

The Bloomberg Center at Cornell Tech: One More World Class Game Changer for Roosevelt Island

Updated 19 weeks ago David Stone
Cornell Tech Nears Completion, Bloomberg Center on the Right
Cornell Tech Nears Completion, Bloomberg Center on the Right
Photo credit: Max Touhey

"The world changes this summer," may read like a pitch for the next Hollywood blockbuster, but it's not. This summer, on Roosevelt Island, the future spins firmly in a new and better direction.

Lost in all the cacophony of political rhetoric is a truth -- history's carved not at conventions, in newscasts or in legislation. Because the core of being human is the art of finding solutions, as it always has been, the future rests on the creativity, energy and faith of builders and seekers.

If you want to know how our planet will get past the limits of finite energy resources, all you need to do is look south of the Queensboro Bridge. The future is taking shape at Cornell Tech's Passive House, the dazzlingly innovate Bridge Building and the, until now, too often overlooked Bloomberg Center.

Change leans into the future with the structure itself, designed by Morphosis, with founder and Pritzker-prize winning architect Thom Mayne serving as design director, even before the post grads set down in front of computers loaded with forward looking apps.

“The Bloomberg Center is our main academic hub on campus," explains Cornell Tech Dean Dan Huttenlocher, but there's more. "Inspired by the Bloomberg model, we’re reinforcing our commitment to innovation and sustainability by pushing the boundaries of current energy efficiency practices and setting a new standard for building in New York.”

Huttenlocher has nursed Cornell Tech for five years from its most embryonic stage in Google's Chelsea headquarters to the eve of a game-changing migration to Roosevelt Island. The campus gates open to the public on July 17th with the academics and a synergetic combination of commerce and research coming into full play in September.

"Cornell’s aspiration is for the building to reach Net Zero and LEED Platinum status, with all of the energy needed to power the building generated on campus," the school said in a press release. "The campus is employing multiple strategies including solar power, geothermal ground source heat pumps, an energy efficient facade balancing the ratio between transparency and opaqueness to maximize building insulation and decrease energy demand, and smart building features monitoring lighting and plug load use."

Cornell Tech spokesmen explain that the "strategy to achieve a low energy building is through a stepped approach prioritizing reduction in energy demand through load reductions as well as maximizing passive and energy efficient design, and using renewable energy to power the building systems.

Strategies to achieve Net Zero at The Bloomberg Center include:

  • An all-electric building: No fossil fuel is used in the building. 
  • Geothermal wells: 80 closed-loop geothermal wells, each 400 feet deep, were drilled below the main campus public open space. The electrically powered ground-source heat pumps are used to heat and cool the building in conjunction with an active chilled-beam system.
  • Solar power: Built with EnterSolar, an acre-sized photovoltaic array tops The Bloomberg Center and neighboring The Bridge building, generating solar power. Instead of locating remote solar panels off site, the designs of The Bloomberg Center and The Bridge incorporate the panels as an integral building design feature, converging engineering requirements and architecture. The array on The Bloomberg Center provides building shading while harvesting solar power.
  • Highly insulated façade: A unitized, continuously insulated rainscreen wall system covered by an iconic metal panel façade designed by Morphosis architects balances exterior views and daylight while maximizing facade insulation.
  • Smart building technology: Smart building features, designed by Morphosis and engineering firm Arup, links lighting control, occupancy sensors, security, and other building controls to provide on-demand power and respond to user needs and occupancy, contributing to reducing energy usage.
  • Green roof: A low-maintenance green roof incorporates native plant species along the southeast edge of the building to help cool the lower roof surface.

Four stories tall, the Bloomberg Center, named in honor of Emma and Georgina Bloomberg, will have 160,000 square feet of academic space. It's narrow profile opens up to cross island views while making maximum use of daylight. Open offices and a galleria stretch through the length of the building. 

Like the Bridge, enclaves dot the structure, encouraging chance encounters, impromptu discussions and unplanned, spontaneous collaboration. It's another nest for creativity.

At its most basic, practical level, the Bloomberg Center uses a 40,000 gallon rainwater harvesting tank hidden beneath the sloping campus lawn. Non-potable water for toilets, the cooling tower and irrigation depend on it.

Well aware of threats from rising seawater levels in oceanside city, planners raised up every building on the campus. Key mechanical equipment finds a home on the roof for additional protection.

A $100 million gift from Mike Bloomberg, who championed Cornell Tech's emergence in New York City while Mayor, secured naming rights.

So, by autumn, Bloomberg Center joins The Bridge and The House, three world class, potentially game-changing facilities setting roots on Roosevelt Island. From now on, the future makes its way into the unknown, pausing for a mandatory visit to our band of Manhattan schist, landscaped intelligently for living and creating on the East River.