Underutilized Library Transforms for Big Data
Collaborative environment encourages cross-disciplinary discourse

1   Entry
2   Building Lobby
3   Lounge/Dining

4   Quiet Study
5   Cafe
6   Collaboration & Hoteling

7   Graduate Student Desks
8   Faculty Office

9   Meeting & Projects
10 Courtyard

Situated in a dense, urban campus, the project provides much-needed space for group work and independent study, radically transforming the use of this 1960s-era research building.


reinvented space
The library has been transformed into an interdisciplinary research and education environment to support the next generation of data scientists.

Interspersing offices between hoteling spaces creates a connected series of intimate, collaborative work areas containing a variety of furniture arrangements to to encourage different uses and promote spontaneous discussions. High work surfaces lift individuals to the eye level of those passing by.

creating interactions with design
Now part of the building’s entry sequence, the Student Commons has become the signature space of SEAS. With the presence of the café, the commons is fully occupied from morning through night. A light-filled, open and expressive, this space is also routinely used for special events and activities. The previous Student Commons — a long, linear space with low ceilings (see image to the right) — attracted few occupants and was primarily for lunchtime seating.

Columbia University
SEAS Data Science Institute

New York, NY / United States


24,195 GSF

LEED Gold Certified

At Columbia University, our design team transformed an underutilized engineering library into the Data Science Institute (DSI). Located in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and conceived as a hub for computational research, the DSI unites multiple departments from across the campus in single collaborative environment that contains 12 private faculty offices, 60 doctoral student workstations, a prototyping space for research projects and an array of flexible work and gathering areas. The arrangement of these spaces encourages cross-disciplinary discourse and problem solving.

Adjacent to the DSI, a new Student Commons capitalizes on a prominent location at the entry of the SEAS, providing a welcoming destination for students and faculty to work and socialize.

Working in the 1960s-era building, our team needed to replace the existing dimly lit double-loaded corridors with open, inviting workspaces that would promote collaborative interactions in the DSI and draw people to the Student Commons. For the latter, we were tasked with the creation of a public space that would serve as the iconic “front door” for SEAS but not alter the building’s exterior envelope.

Our approach to the project focuses on diffusing boundaries and introducing natural light in all spaces. We created neighborhoods of private offices with shared work areas linked by meandering paths. Throughout the main entrance lobby and continuing into the Student Commons and we inserted a sculptural perforated metal ceiling, which provides a strong signature element to unify the space and preserves the feeling of verticality and lightness.

Innovative Components
The Student Commons is a defining element for the SEAS. By capturing abandoned and forgotten space, we expanded the interior entry area and opened a view from the main entrance through the Commons to the other side of the building. This vista transforms the experience of approaching the building, foregrounding the new Student Commons. The perforated metal ceiling reinforces this transformation and provides a glimpse of the mechanical equipment above, highlighting a moment of engineering within the building itself. Coupled with the new adjacent café, the Student Commons is a popular dining, study and collaborative work area for students and faculty alike.

Photography: © Chuck Choi                                                                                                                         

Charles S. Klee, AIA, LEED AP

Peter F. Vieira, AIA, LEED AP
Project Manager / Architect