At Columbia’s sports center, a hyperactivity fitting for athletes: Architecture review, photos

TRD New York /
Jun.June 28, 2013 02:30 PM

Whether or not college athletes give any thought to the loveliness of the facilities in which they spend much of their time, the jocks at Columbia University have much to Be Happy For With The New Campbell Sports Center On Broadway at 218th Street.

The place where this odd structure has landed is one of the most unusual and least visited on the island of Manhattan. There are no tall buildings in the area, which retains more empty space and empty lots than any other part of the borough. Indeed, a visit to this part of the city is like a trip back in time to see how much of Manhattan looked around its edges as recently as fifty years ago. And the neighboring Inwood Park, with its cluttered, almost primeval forest, gives a sense of how the land looked when it still belonged to the Lenape Indians.

For over half a century, the main draw to this part of Manhattan has been the Baker Athletics Complex, which is where Columbia’s football, baseball and other team sports facilities are held.

The new Campbell Sports Center, designed by the renowned architect Steven Holl, together with Chris McVoy, is intended as a grand entrance to Baker, as well as the first expansion of the sports complex since the Marcellus Hartley Dodge Physical Fitness Center opened nearly 40 years ago. With nearly 48,000 square feet of additional space, the nearly completed Campbell offers training spaces, offices for sports teams, meeting spaces and rooms for student-athletes to study in.

The building has been conceived in the deconstructivist style associated with the Holl, who was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s gold medal last year. With its cubic complexity and twisting forms, the new structure exhibits a kind of wiry hyperactivity, with interlocking volumes of gray metal often suspended on stills. As with all of Holl’s works, the building has been made with a refined attention to detail, and with an intelligent deployment of windows and rectilinear forms that thoroughly belies the initial impression of arbitrariness that the building gives off.

Before the Campbell opened, lovers of architecture had little reason to head north of 181st Street. Now they do.

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