Multi-purpose space for an urban campus

    NYU’s 181 Mercer building’s façade emphasizes transparency, lightness, and connection between the building’s interior and the streetscape. Green roofs will provide visual relief, outdoor amenity space, and stormwater management. Rendering: studioAMD

    The architectural team — Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake — for New York University’s (NYU) 181 Mercer building recently shared updates of their designs for a glass-façade, 735,000-square-foot facility that will replace a dim, bunker-like 35-year-old un-air-conditioned gym. The new structure will become NYU’s largest classroom building, provide NYU’s performing arts programs with the professional spaces they have always lacked, furnish needed new housing for students and faculty, and establish a new home for NYU’s student-athletes.

    Demolition began on the existing Coles gym in October 2016; construction on the new building is slated to begin February 2017 and be finished in 2021. An official groundbreaking — with the announcement of an anonymous nine-figure gift — is expected to take place in spring 2017.

    The new structure’s design — slimmer, smaller, and lighter than the envelope set by the city approvals process — creates active streetscapes; engages pedestrians and observers in the streets around it; creates a new pedestrian “greenway” where Greene St. used to run; and provides an expansive open commons on the second floor for a university whose urban setting has never permitted a “quad.” Floor-to-ceiling windows are designed to take advantage of natural light while reducing energy usage, and green roofs will not only provide visual relief and outdoor amenity space, but also allow for better runoff control during heavy rainfall.

    NYU President Andrew Hamilton said, “This is a building that will serve the NYU community — our students, our faculty, our staff — exceptionally well. As a career academic, I have visited many campuses over the years. It is difficult to think of another school with a more acute need for academic space than NYU. The 181 Mercer building will add nearly 60 new classrooms, easing the challenge we have long had in matching classes with properly sized and properly equipped rooms. It will give young performing artists in Tisch and Steinhardt practice, rehearsal, and performance spaces in keeping with programs of NYU’s caliber. It will give our campus a modern gym to serve our student/athletes and the fitness needs of the rest of us. It will provide much-needed housing for both students and faculty. And in the long run, this addition of more classrooms — the largest number of classrooms ever added at one time at NYU — will allow for the creation of more laboratories in the Silver building on Washington Square Park as part of our long-range efforts to boost the sciences at NYU.

    “And while the academic purpose of the building was foremost, the architects were asked to do more than that,” Hamilton said. They were asked to meet our academic needs while achieving the highest standards for design in order to produce a building of which the university can be proud, one that reflects our character and is thoughtful and responsive to the concerns of our neighbors. And they accomplished just that.”

    A second floor commons with a café will permit casual interactions between different disciplines and activities. Rendering: studioAMD

    Features and uses of the new building include the following:

    • NYU’s largest classroom building — Nearly 60 new classrooms, more than 20 music instruction rooms, and a variety of study spaces.

    • Theatres and music spaces equal to NYU’s reputation in the performing arts — Three new theatres, including a 350-seat professional-quality proscenium theatre with fly-tower (the first ever for NYU); an orchestral ensemble room; approximately 10 studio/rehearsal/workshop spaces for performing arts classes; nearly 20 group and individual music instruction rooms; and more than 50 individual practice rooms.

    • Sustainability — With green roofs that can moderate water runoff and naturally cool the building; a greenway to replace the former gym’s “rear alley”; connection to NYU’s ultra-efficient co-generation plant; and a transparent façade that will save energy by admitting natural light, 181 Mercer’s function and design are emblematic of NYU’s commitment to sustainability. 181 Mercer will pursue LEED v4 Silver at a minimum, and target Gold.

    • Design — With a more slender massing and with 20 percent less gross square footage than permitted under the city approvals process, 181 Mercer’s façade emphasizes transparency, lightness, and connection between the building’s interior and the streetscape. It also consciously seeks to reverse the monolithic, opaque character of its predecessor, Coles Sports Center, and to make Mercer St. and the corners at Bleecker and Houston Streets more lively, active, and inviting.

    • A town square — A second floor commons with a café (one of two cafes in the building) will permit the kind of casual interactions between different disciplines and activities that have heretofore been elusive at NYU.

    • Residences for students and faculty — Housing for approximately 420 freshmen and 30 to 60 faculty apartments.

    • Athletics — An athletics facility with four basketball courts; a six-lane lap pool; and facilities for wrestling, fencing, squash, and fitness and training. In addition, the new gym can be used as an assembly space (now sorely lacking) for as many as 2,700 people (compared with 1,900 for its predecessor).

    • Neighborhood — Neighbors will have access to the lobby atrium and a dedicated room for local community group use.

    • Separate entrances, confluence of users — With a first-floor atrium and separate entries for classrooms, athletics, residential, and the theatre, traffic flow within the building has been designed to optimize interactions among students and faculty.

    Of the 735,000-square-foot building, nearly 40 percent is for general-purpose classrooms and specialized spaces for performing arts education; more than 30 percent is for student and faculty residential space; and nearly 20 percent is for athletics, sports, and fitness. The remainder is divided among student study and activity space, dedicated space for a local community group, a publicly accessible atrium, dining, and building support.

    Information provided by New York University. More information on 181 Mercer is available at