A Bold Transformation

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center is poised to be a hub of scientific discovery and knowledge when completed in 2026

By Bridget Moriarity

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When Barnard announced its Year of Science in the fall of 2021, fundraising was already underway to transform Altschul Hall, the school’s current science hub, into a state-of-the-art center for scientific education and research. Then, in March 2022, Diana T. Vagelos ’55 and her husband, P. Roy Vagelos, M.D. ’54, pledged $55 million toward that end, the largest single donor gift the school had ever received. The rest is history.

Upon completion, the structure’s footprint will increase by 20%, morphing from 143,000 square feet to 169,000 square feet, with research lab spaces nearly doubled. Perhaps most significantly, all of Barnard’s experimental sciences will be housed in one edifice, constructed with both inclusive design principles and high-reaching sustainability goals top of mind. 

The architecture firm behind the center, Perkins & Will, is targeting LEED Gold certification, and the building will be all electric, a significant step toward improved energy efficiency. “With advanced research labs, teaching labs, and community spaces that engage the campus, the project will be the first net-zero-ready operational carbon, all-electric academic science building in New York City,” notes Emily Grandstaff-Rice, the Perkins & Will project manager.

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center (R&D Science Center) is currently undergoing a series of surveys and probes to evaluate the existing building, with construction set to begin in May 2024 and completion slated for the summer of 2026.

“All the science faculty are deeply involved in the planning for the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center — from details down to what size drawers they want in their lab to larger building issues,” says Dina Merrer, chemistry professor and Dean of Science Education and Infrastructure.

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A committee composed of faculty representatives from each of the science departments involved — Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Neuroscience & Behavior, Physics & Astronomy — has been meeting weekly for more than two years to discuss all aspects of the project. By July, Altschul Hall will be emptied, with many of Barnard’s science courses and research efforts relocating to various locations on the Columbia campus.

The ambitious undertaking, which has a $250 million budget, will see the future-proofing of a structure that will allow for more efficient use of space and increased flexibility. In addition to becoming fully electric, the R&D Science Center will maximize the material reuse of Altschul Hall to set a precedent for climate-smart architecture in an urban context.

“Having the confidence that our new building will support whatever contemporary equipment we bring into it will be significant,” says Merrer.

As President Laura Rosenbury ushers the College into a new era, several of her priorities — from “investing in infrastructures of excellence” to growing Barnard’s endowment to $1 billion by 2030 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 — dovetail seamlessly with the creation of the R&D Science Center, a building that has the potential to empower many an aspiring scientist.

 

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