Urban university walk

Seen and heard on 20 October 2015 at Morningside Heights, NYC:


The weather, that day, was excellent. His walk started at the old campus site. Then he took us eastward, to the rim of the heights, showing us West Harlem deep down below. Wonderful view! John Reddick is from Yale, where he studied history of architecture, with Vincent Scully. With his loud voice Mr. Reddick guided us around, told us some great stories on the history of Columbia University and its neigbourhood. The site, in northwest Manhattan, was an empty plateau in 1890. In the beginning the city wanted it to become the site of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, but Chicago won the competition. So the future of the place had to be reconsidered. Columbia University, which moved up from 50th Street and Madison Avenue to 116th Street and Broadway, now forms the centerpiece of Morningside Heights, but the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Barnard College and Riverside Church were its competitors. At the end of the nineteenth century Columbia was ‘a sleepy little place’, but Seth Low – who would become Mayor of New York City – had a great vision when he took over as the university’s president in 1889. Low didn’t want the Gothic of the traditional Ivy League campus. He wanted Columbia to become a great urban university, in and of the city.

So McKim, Mead & White, Columbia’s architects, adopted an urban Renaissance model for the campus. It was a conscious decision to be different from places like Princeton and Yale. This you can also read in Andrew Dolkart’s ”Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development” (Columbia University Press, 1998). Only when the subway was built in 1904, the place became a residential neighborhood. Since then, most of the appartment building have been purchased by Columbia, which needed ever more extension space. So that’s where our sunny walk ended: strolling along Riverside Drive in northern direction, crossing a tall bridge. Deep down below us we had a stunning view on Manhattanville, where Columbia University is building its brand new second campus on a 17 acre-site, costing 6.8 billion US dollars. Welcome to the masterclass New York City, moderated by the Wibaut Chair at the University of Amsterdam, on the future of the city and its universities.






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