Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill & James Corner Field Operations

Owner: Cornell University

Location: New York, NY

Rigorously principled but highly adaptable in its approach, this master plan outlines the growth of Cornell University’s applied science program. Envisioned as free of discrete academic departments, the plan establishes an open and collaborative community of designers, engineers, and scientists on a boundary-free, 12.4-acre site woven into the greenspace of New York’s Roosevelt Island.

The plan emerged from a 2010 competition launched by the New York City Economic Development Corporation that explored whether the creation of an institution could spur economic development. The ambitious challenge carried with it city-owned land and $100 million. Cornell was one of 27 institutions to respond, ultimately winning with its proposal to create a $2 billion, 2 million-square-foot campus where open spaces would eliminate the boundaries between the academic and commercial worlds.

The campus is organized around a central pedestrian boulevard called Techwalk, which connects the island’s Main Street with Four Freedoms Park. Buildings and outdoor rooms line Techwalk and offer a number of uniquely programmed spaces to support a diverse mix of uses. Every outdoor room boasts views of Midtown Manhattan and Queens’ waterfront and is optimized for its intended use. Apartments, workspaces, restaurants, and outdoor amenities are all mixed together in the plan, while parcels of land shaped by pathways provide ample space for future expansion informed by design briefs that support new program requirements.

Given its location, sustainability was a driving force behind the plan for the campus, and the team took a holistic approach to its design. To protect the campus from rising sea levels, Techwalk rises five to seven feet above the 500-year floodplain elevation. A central utility plant, which includes renewable energy sources such as fuel cells, provides the campus’ electrical spot network system and sits on the site’s highest ridge.

By fundamentally rethinking 21st century pedagogy, this plan lays out a vision for a new type of educational institution that is fully engaged with the community and surrounding industries. Pedestrian-oriented, dynamic, and sustainable, the envisioned campus is a microcosm of the city itself.  

"The submission exceeds the criteria of the honor award in all respects. Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan reconceives the role of the university in the city through economic, social, and environmental means. The design is a catalyst with positive impact well beyond its boundaries. It is an impressive synthesis of a myriad of constraints into design opportunities that create a welcoming environment for students, entrepreneurs, faculty and the broader community." - Jury comment

Additional information

Master Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Urban Design and Site Planning: James Corner Field Operations

Master Developer: Forest City Ratner Corporation

Housing Developer: Hudson and the Related Companies

Development Strategy: U3 Advisors

Public Sector Partner: New York City Economic Development Corporation

Project Manager & Development Advisor: Karen Backus & Associates

Strategy: Sirefman Ventures

Pre-Construction & Cost Estimating: Tishman Construction

Engineer - MEP: AKF

Sustainability Engineering Planning: In-Posse

Structural Engineering Planning: Robert Silman

Engineer - Civil & Transportation: Philip Habib & Associates (PHA)

Graphic Design: Two Twelve

Real Estate & Land Use Counsel: Fried Frank


Carol Ross Barney, FAIA (Chair), Ross Barney Architects, Chicago, Illinois

Jenn Maigret, AIA, Ply+, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Nichole Wiedemann, AIA, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas

Katherine Darnstadt, AIA, Latent Design, Chicago, Illinois

David Kunselman, AIA, City of Seattle, Seattle, Washington

Image credits

Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan-05

SOM | Lucas Blair Simpson

Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan-07

Iwan Baan

Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan-06

Iwan Baan

Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan-03

Iwan Baan

Cornell Tech Campus Framework Plan-04

SOM | Lucas Blair Simpson