Marble Fairbanks — A new gathering space (dubbed the "social hub") and café for Columbia University's renowned Graduate School of Journalism uses digital fabrication techniques to tell the story of its own conception and construction. The client specifically asked for a combination of tradition and innovation that would reflect the history and mission of the school. The 9,000-square-foot remodel is spread across two floors of an original McKim, Mead & White building and a 1,000-square-foot glass addition, which includes a daylit café.

The focus of the renovation is the double-height social hub. The public spaces are highlighted by four primary surfaces whose design parameters are distinct. Marble Fairbanks defined different "performance" criteria for each that could be used to create digital patterns that relate specifically to different programmatic spaces. The design of the social hub's ceiling is driven by "acoustical" performance; that of its west wall by "cultural" performance. The ceiling of the café takes its cues from "environmental" performance; its east façade from "dynamic" performance. The first three surfaces are metal panels whose elaboration employs digital design and fabrication techniques. For each, the designers chose appropriate images and wrote computer scripts that created perforated palimpsests of that imagery while simultaneously accommodating the surfaces' structural, lighting, mechanical, and fire protection needs. The dynamic façade is an operable glass wall, which raises and lowers slowly, allowing access to an adjacent courtyard.

Ralph Johnson saw references to Alvar Aalto's variegated brick walls in the undulated steel scrims, saying, "It's like an experimental room of textures of metal." Jurors noted the now-ubiquitous laser cutting method of production—a trend that's even more popular with students than practitioners. Marion Weiss summed the design up as an ethereal space, whose experience "is not to notice the thing of it, but the effect of it."

Project Credits

Client Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Columbia University Facilities Architect Marble Fairbanks, New York—Scott Marble, Karen Fairbanks, Adam Marcus, Mallory Shure, Eric Ng, Stacey Murphy, Robert Booth, Darren Zhou, Katie Shima (project team) Structural Engineer Robert Silman Associates M/E/P Engineers Plus Group Façade Consultant Front Lighting Design Richard Shaver Architectural Lighting Graphic Design Thumb Projects Fabrication Consultant Proxy Design Geometry Development Stevens Institute Product Architecture Lab—Will Corcoran, Oleg Byashirov, Jonatan Schumacher General Contractor Structure Tone Façade Contractor A-Val Architectural Metals Metal Panel Fabrication Maloya Laser