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2018 MCHAP

Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center

Diller Scofidio + Renfro

New York, NY, USA

August 2016


Diller Scofidio + Renfro


Gensler (Executive Architect)


Columbia University Medical Center


Iwan Baan


The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center is a new, state-of-the-art medical and graduate education building at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. The building’s principal design strategy is the Study Cascade—a network of social and study spaces distributed across oversize landings along an intricate 14–story stair. The project seeks to create a space that connects the activities of all four of Columbia’s medical schools, encouraging collaboration across specialties and providing outlets for creativity. The Study Cascade creates a single interconnected space the height of the building, stretching from the ground floor lobby to the top, providing spaces that foment dialogue and are conducive to collaborative, team–based learning and teaching.


Located in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood on existing Columbia University property, the 100,000-square-foot, 14-story glass tower is designed to reflect how medicine is taught, learned, and practiced in the 21st century. The building unites students from all four schools of Columbia University’s Medical Center: Physicians & Surgeons, Nursing, Dental Medicine and the Mailman School of Public Health, as well as the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The design seeks to reshape the look and feel of the Medical Center, and to create spaces that facilitate the development of skills essential for modern medical practice, while responding to the site’s narrow footprint and tapered zoning envelope.


In contrast to the traditional, institutional nature of medical education buildings—characterized by low-slung ceilings, densely-packed programs, and double-loaded corridors— the Study Cascade extends campus activity along the south elevation of the building with a diverse network of social and study spaces. The wide array of spaces includes exterior terraces, a stepped lounge, individual study spaces, and a 275-seat auditorium. As a counterpart, the north elevation is dedicated to more controlled, specialized learning spaces that include flexible classrooms, anatomy laboratories, and a simulation center. These include both cadaver and simulation-based examination rooms designed to foster empathy for patients and precision through robotic training. The Cascade, in combination with the specialized classrooms and labs, offers students and faculty a range of spatial experiences, with opportunities to work alone or in groups, in public or behind closed doors, at any time of day or night. The building's design also creates a strong connection to the city, thanks to its generous views and outdoor spaces, and acts as a beacon at the northern limit of the medical campus.

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