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Inside Cornell Tech: NYC’s Tech Hub of the Future

CThe crown jewel of New York City's tech push is open for business. More than half a dozen years in the making, the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is the glimmering face of the city's educational and economic ambitions to build itself into a self-styled "Silicon Alley," the tech- and startup-driven economic hub of the East Coast.

Wednesday morning's official dedication ceremony brought together the business, educational, government, and tech leaders who made Cornell Tech a reality. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and former mayor Michael Bloomberg—the architect behind the project—each gave speeches on their vision for tech, education, and economic growth in New York. They joined the heads of Cornell Tech and its academic partner, the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, to cut the ribbon on the high-tech, eco-friendly campus representing the pipeline of engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists that will power New York's tech-driven economy of the future.

"Cornell Tech is the result of collaboration between the public and private sectors, between universities and businesses, between artists and architects, and so many others," said Bloomberg. "The school is an investment in the future of this city, and that investment belongs to generations to come. It will help generate jobs across the economic spectrum, generate revenue to help the city fund important services, and help our city compete with tech centers around the world, from Silicon Valley to Seoul."

Situated on a narrow sliver of land wedged in the East River between the east side of Manhattan and Queens, the 12-acre Cornell Tech campus occupies essentially the entire southern half of Roosevelt Island. The first phase of the campus includes three buildings nestled under the Queensboro Bridge, each adorned with solar panels, open workspaces, and high-tech amenities with public spaces in between.

The Bloomberg Center is the academic center of the campus, and features a public cafe, glass meeting rooms, and open offices spindled around a central staircase and an intricate mural of tech diagrams and abstract art. The Bridge is a co-working building where startups and businesses rent space to work alongside students and faculty, and the House is a 26-story residential building and the first high-rise built to passive house energy standards.

There are two more buildings under construction and set to open in 2019: the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and the Verizon Executive Education Center for conferences and meetups. PCMag got a tour of the new Cornell Tech campus from the architects and designers who built it, and heard from the faculty, students, and startups who are already innovating and building products on the island.

(Top Art Photo Credit: Iwan Baan)

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  • 1

    Ribbon Cutting

    Mayor De Blasio, former Mayor Bloomberg, Goveror Cuomo, Cornell University President Martha Pollack, Cornell Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher, and Technion President Peretz Lavie cut the ribbon at Cornell Tech’s official dedication.

  • 2

    Welcome to Cornell Tech

    Housed since 2012 at Google's offices in Chelsea, Cornell Tech now moves to its permanent Roosevelt Island home. The school currently has 300 students, and over the next few years will scale toward 2,000.

  • 3

    The Bloomberg Center

    The 160,000-square-foot academic building is the center of campus life, with four floors of classrooms, glass meeting spaces, open offices, and some private rooms and faculty offices. The outer facade features a unique design meant to look from afar almost like constantly changing code.

  • 4

    Open Offices

    Cornell Tech students working in the Bloomberg Center with a view of the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.

  • 5

    Lecture Hall

    A lecture hall in the Bloomberg Center with a teacher giving a lecture on blockchain and smart contracts.

  • 6


    Some of the 173 tech diagrams and equations drawn into the main mural of the Bloomberg Center, which is intended to promote a new way of thinking. Look for everything from the printing press to Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity, as well as unsolved mathematical equations offered by Cornell Tech professors.

  • 7

    Solar Panels

    Cornell Tech is touted as a "net zero" campus built with environmental sustainability in mind. There are solar panels atop each building, as well as advanced bio-filtration systems and a geothermal well field underground. The campus is also elevated, built well above the flood line in case of future natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

  • 8

    The Bridge

    The Bridge is a 235,000-square-foot building housing 30 percent Cornell Tech students and faculty, and 70 percent startups and co-working spaces for businesses.

  • 9

    View from The Bridge

    The building has river-to-river views of Queens on one side and the Manhattan skyline, pictured here, on the other. It's also built with sustainability in mind, built with a glass exterior that's 40 percent transparent and 60 percent opaque to maximize natural light and minimize artificial lighting consumption.

  • 10

    Multi-Level Workspaces

    There aren't many walls in The Bridge. Lounges and work spaces encourage startups and entrepreneurs to collaborate with students and faculty on ideas and projects.

  • 11

    Businesses Moving In

    Three companies have already signed on for office space in The Bridge. Tech and finance firm Two Sigma is moving data-driven artificial intelligence research to Cornell Tech as part of a "Collision Lab" to incubate new products with students and startups. Chocolate maker Ferrero Rocher is opening an office to innovate delivery and food systems, and Citi is opening an "Innovation Zone" at Cornell Tech for cybersecurity and Big Data research.

  • 12

    Cornell Studio

    The Cornell Studio program encourages students to form diverse teams, come up with ideas, and build viable products. Since 2012, the program has spun out 38 startups from 81 founders, who employed 173 people and raised $31 million in funding. Students iterate on products and ideas, and get feedback on their products and business plans from real world tech advisers and venture capital investors. One of the successful startups from Cornell's most recent awards is Speech Up, a gamified mobile speech therapy platform for kids.

  • 13

    The House

    The final completed building is The House, a 26-story high-rise for students and faculty residences. The 270 foot-tall building is the largest passive house structure in the world with 352 apartment units and 550 beds. The building is projected to save 882 tons of CO2 per year.

  • 14

    Passive House Design

    The House is built with a state-of-the-art "thermal wrap" of 8-11 inches of metal panel around the entire building to provide continuous insulation, which reduces utility bills by keeping cold air contained in the summer and heat insulated in the winter. The "gills" on the outside let the mechanical systems breathe, constantly cycling fresh air into the building and maintaining constant temperature in all habitable spaces.

  • 15

    Verizon Center and Hotel

    The next phase of construction, set to be completed in 2019, is the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and the Verizon Executive Education Center next to The House.

  • 16

    The Next Phases

    This view from the Bloomberg Center shows the open public spaces of the campus and the rolling hills beyond, on which development will begin in the coming years for new buildings in phases two and three of Cornell Tech construction, set to be fully completed by 2043.

  • 17

    New York's Next Tech Hub?

    Mayor De Blasio said during the ribbon cutting that he sees Cornell Tech as "not a distant beacon, but a harbinger of change" in the lives of New York City's residents, and that the city's tech ecosystem is already generating 350,000 jobs and growing rapidly. The city is investing heavily in software development and STEM education at every level of its public school system.

    Cornell Tech represents the key piece of the city's talent pipeline in getting those highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers into New York-based technical colleges, interning and being recruited by local tech companies and businesses, and founding their own startups to feed back into the economic growth of Silicon Alley. For all the tech, business, and government leaders who cut the ribbon on Roosevelt Island, that vision is beginning to become a reality.

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