Design Diagnosis: Back to School

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By Matthew Keeshin and Dwell
The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center is the new kid on campus at Columbia University.

Cover photo by Iwan Baan

Walking up to the new Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center at Columbia University, the building certainly stands out. The frit glass facade reveals a cascading program of classrooms and communal spaces that are very characteristic of Diller Scofidio + Renfro's work. The Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GRFC) panel system wraps around the building and determines the distribution of study areas, classrooms, lounges and the auditorium. The building designed in collaboration with Gensler, who served as the executive architect, is described by Diller Scofidio + Renfro partner Liz Diller as a "series of neighborhoods." 

Design Diagnosis: Back to School - Photo 1 of 3 - The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center include outdoor terraces for gatherings.

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center include outdoor terraces for gatherings.

The 14-story facility has a similar feel to The Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University. Multifunctional lounges are integrated with classrooms and hallways throughout the building. And there's more in common than you would think between performing art students and future doctors. Medical students are set up with state-of-the-art simulation rooms to practice surgeries and patient interactions in mock examination rooms.  

Design Diagnosis: Back to School - Photo 2 of 3 - The lobby features seating and a cafe with views overlooking the courts. 

The lobby features seating and a cafe with views overlooking the courts. 


What's essential in this project is that the medical school feels comfortable and versatile. While the building is designed for the practice of medicine, that doesn't mean it is sterile or cold. The interior is finished with warm colors and Douglas fir-clad walls and ceiling panels. In the lobby, people who are just passing by can even see the Hudson river straight through the building. A garden space features local plants from the Palisades. The auditorium includes a grand piano, ready for any impulsive conciertos. The firm's experience designing cultural centers definitely informed a friendly interpretation of the medical school typology.    

Design Diagnosis: Back to School - Photo 3 of 3 - The auditorium includes 275 seats for lectures and concerts. 

The auditorium includes 275 seats for lectures and concerts.