Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Silicon Island

Can photovoltaics ever be romantic? Morphosis Architects’ design for a new academic building for the Cornell NYC Tech campus, scheduled to open on Roosevelt Island in 2017, suggests the answer could be yes. The in-progress scheme lofts a “lilypad” of photovoltaic cells five stories in the air, covering the roof of Morphosis’ building and bridging a pedestrian street to rest atop a co-location facility (an on-campus business incubator) to be designed by an architect yet to be chosen. By calling it the “lilypad,” Morphosis principal Thom Mayne is trying to get out ahead of the nickname curve, and to suggest that his massive array (a.k.a. “the solar farm”) is more an element of landscape than of architecture. The structure itself is to be the first net-zero building in New York City, fulfilling its own energy needs and acting as a living embodiment of the future of technology. At a recent briefing on the campus master plan, scheduled to begin the city approvals process this week, Mayne said that the array simply has to be that big to produce enough power—though the pad also seems a lot like an older brother’s headlock on to-be-announced Architect #2.