The Stavros Niarchos Foundation–David Rockefeller River Campus expands the grounds of the renowned biomedical research university by two acres, and adds several new buildings with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities designed for complex and advanced biomedical research. The new construction occupies the airspace over FDR Drive, a busy roadway situated between the campus and the East River. The 135,600 square feet of new building space have the capacity to accommodate more than 600 scientific staff and the flexibility to be adapted to research needs as they evolve. The new addition extends the inviting green spaces that weave together Rockefeller’s campus, providing new loci for scholarly communities to form.
The plan for the new campus moved forward in 2014 with $150 million in equal pledges from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and David Rockefeller. For over half a century, SNF’s founder, the late Stavros Niarchos, was close friends and business partners with David Rockefeller, who passed away in 2017.
The decision to take on the serious technical challenge of building over a busy roadway was the outcome of Rockefeller’s commitment to prioritize the needs of its community of researchers, while also respecting the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods. The university found that the layout of tall tower-style laboratory buildings, segmented into smaller floors, had the effect of isolating each lab. A horizontally oriented building, however, that could accommodate large, open floors shared between multiple labs and common spaces would require space, and available space was not a luxury that the Manhattan institution enjoyed. Fortunately, David Rockefeller had had the foresight for the university to acquire the air rights over FDR Drive in 1973 and the perseverance to clear subsequent hurdles to making use of it. Huge prefabricated structural elements were brought in by barge from the river, and were moved into place during the short nighttime windows when FDR Drive would shut down and the tides were cooperative.
Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the project encompasses a conference and an academic center, and a dining commons, in addition to cutting-edge new lab facilities. Beyond the outdoor green spaces added to campus, the project also includes the improvement and beautification of the stretch of the East River Esplanade that runs along the river adjacent to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation–David Rockefeller River Campus. A university endowment will provide for its maintenance into the future, providing much needed public space for the surrounding communities.