“How much does your house weigh?”
That was the question Buckminster Fuller used to ask in the 1920s when marketing his Dymaxion House, a 3,000-pound, circular, mass-producible, affordable, and environmentally-responsible house way ahead of its time. The line, later adapted for the title of a documentary about Norman Foster, a Fuller enthusiast, has become shorthand for a different kind of thinking—technological, industrial, radical—around architecture. Fuller turned his back on 150 tons of brick and right angles in favor of an evaluation method copped from the world of transportation.
I was reminded of this Fuller quote as I toured the three new buildings on Roosevelt Island, officially opening today, that make up the 12-acre campus of Cornell Tech. Those structures include the Morphosis-designed Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, an academic building named for the daughters of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose philanthropy gave the applied sciences graduate school $100 million in 2015. The Bridge, designed by Weiss/Manfredi, is a seven-story “co-location” building intended to bring entrepreneurs to academia, and vice versa; while The House, by Handel Architects, is a 26-story, 350-unit dormitory for students, staff, and faculty that also happens to be the world’s largest Passive House building. (The fact that all three buildings are opening at the same time and on schedule gives me nostalgia for Bloomberg-era competence.)
On my tour, with the architects stacked back-to-back, a half hour per building, Michael Manfredi remarked that it felt a bit like a school science fair. At every turn, they spouted numbers:
40, 60, 1,465, 0