The Diana Center at Barnard College | The Plan
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The Diana Center at Barnard College


On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Barnard College and Columbia University are separated by the broad asphalt strip of Broadway. Barnard is one of the Seven Sisters, traditionally colleges for young women whose menfolk might be educated at Ivy League universities such as Columbia. Architecturally-speaking, from the point-of-view of urbanization and planning, Columbia looks in on itself as a kind of academic island following a famous Beaux Arts master plan by McKim Mead & White. Barnard is less introverted and idealized; it is more piecemeal or improvisational in its campus organization. The new Diana Center by the New York practice Weiss/Manfredi is clearly a landmark for the campus and for the surrounding city. Parallel to Broadway, this long glazed slab is at first glance a cubic and crystalline outcrop: burnt orange to copper, translucent, and especially impressive when illuminated in slanting light or, at dusk, from within. It is clad in taut vertical panels that, on closer inspection, vary in transparency and width within consistent floor-to-floor, horizontal bands. The effect is not unlike a chandelier at an institutional scale with the nuances in fenestration suggestive of rhythms and patterns found in nature. American universities have in recent years sought to juggle the wishes of their all-important donors (often alumni with a sentimental, historicist image of their alma mater) with an evolving need for less formal spaces that promote interdisciplinary connections and that are wired for contemporary technology. Education today is not only less hierarchical…universities need to appear more open. Named for a key benefactor, Diana Vagelos, the Diana Center may seem initially to be a beguilingly foreign object. Nevertheless its architects, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, emphasize that its coloration is in part an interpretation of Barnard’s historic palette of dark brick and terracotta. The new building occupies the site of a recently demolished...

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