The Rockefeller University Stavros Niarchos Foundation - David Rockefeller River Campus

Architect: Rafael Viñoly Architects

Owner: The Rockefeller University

Location: New York

Since 1901, The Rockefeller University has focused on biomedical research, and its faculty has garnered nearly 30 Nobel Prizes, five Breakthrough Prizes, and four MacArthur Fellowships. This $440 million campus extension hovers over FDR Drive along Manhattan’s East River, enhancing the campus landscape and providing flexible laboratory space that promotes heightened interactions among researchers in support of science.

In 2011, the university found itself in desperate need of a new collaboration-oriented research space to maintain its collegial and nonhierarchical research climate optimistic that it would help attract young talent. Of three options for a new campus, the team opted to capitalize on the university’s existing air rights over FDR Drive, muting the thoroughfare’s presence and providing a significant environmental benefit for the entire campus.

The River Campus is discreetly sited, remaining nearly invisible from the university’s main campus and historic walks. It signals its presence with two grand public stairways that extend the university’s landmark gardens into two new acres that overlook the river. Pedestrian in their orientation, the gardens offer a healthy outdoor respite for the campus community and centralized access to new amenities, including a dining commons, a conference center, and an academic hub that contains senior leadership offices.

The campus contains a new research facility called the Kravis Research Building, which occupies two open floors of continuous lab space, each approximately 950 feet long and 105 feet deep. Both floors are bisected by large collaboration spaces that include kitchen and dining facilities. Those spaces boast views of the river to the east and a new amphitheater and historic Welch Hall to the west. The open plan promotes inclusion and knowledge sharing across groups, benefitting junior researchers and aiding the recruitment of women scientists and scientists of color.

At grade, the expansion provides a fully rebuilt and landscaped esplanade that connects to a linear park circumscribing Manhattan. The team also repaired a failed seawall along the river and it, along with new plantings, acoustically shields the esplanade. Maintained by the university, the esplanade is open to the public and is used by cyclists, joggers, and sightseers.

When viewed from the river, the research building’s 1,000-foot-long band of steel and glass helps underscore and unify the beautiful but disparate campus buildings that have been constructed over the university’s 122-year history. Since opening, the state-of-the-art laboratories and amenities have been transformational for the university and a significant asset in recruiting and retaining faculty.

Additional information

Architect: Rafael Viñoly Architects

Engineer - Structural: Thornton Tomasetti

Engineer - MEP: Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers

Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

Audio Visual / Technology Consultant: Convergent Technologies Design Group

Building Code / Life Safety Consultant: Jensen Hughes

Engineer - Civil: Langan

Commissioning Agent: The Fulcrum Group

Cost Estimator: SBI Consultants

Enclosure / Curtain Wall Consultant: Entuitive

Environmental Consultant: AKRF, Inc.

Food Service Consultant : Romano Gatland

Engineer - Geotechnical: Langan

Land Use Attorney: Anderson Kill & Olick PC

Lighting Designer: One Lux Studio

Marine Engineer: Ocean and Coastal Consultants

Specifications Writer: Robert Schwartz & Associates

Sustainability Consultant: EME Group

Wind Tunnel Consultant: Novus Engineering, PC

Construction Manager: Turner Construction Company

Steel Fabrication and Erection: New York Builders

Laboratory Casework: Bicasa


Ashley Wilson, FAIA, Chair, Ashley Wilson Architect, Alexandria, Va.

Jose Leo Arango, Assoc. AIA, EYP, District of Columbia

Randall Deutsch, FAIA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture, Champaign, Ill.

Gabriel Ignacio Dziekiewicz, AIA, DesignBridge, Chicago

Teresa Jan, AIA, Multistudio, San Francisco

Luis Nieves-Ruiz, East Central Florida, Regional Planning Council, Orlando, Fla.

Zakiya Wiggins, AIA, LS3P, Raleigh, N.C.

Image credits


Todd Mason


Brad Feinknopf


Brad Feinknopf


Todd Mason


Todd Mason