Macaulay Honors College at CUNY

Biber Architects has designed the interiors for the Macaulay Center, the new home for the Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. Launched as CUNY Honors College in 2001, the school was renamed five years later following a gift from William E. Macaulay, a 1966 Honors graduate of City College. Thanks to William Macaulay’s gift, Macaulay Honors College recently moved into the Macaulay Center, a Gothic Revival building at 35 West 67th Street dedicated on 17 April 2008.

The Macaulay Center has been fully renovated and includes state-of-the-art classrooms, a lecture hall, performance space, seminar and meeting rooms, administrative offices and a student lounge. The building had a great exterior, but the interiors had been blandly renovated and Pentagram’s interior program helps to brand the space. With no real budget to speak of, the mission was to make the interior feel as smart as the students. Atypical classroom furniture (but ordered from State Contract sources); a fiery, wake-em-up-in-the-morning courtyard treatment (no extra cost, as it had to be painted anyway); and a few “functional/luxury” touches (large pin-up walls and cool reading room lighting) make the building feel truly special.

In the reading room, and throughout the college, large wall areas were devoted to pin-up surfaces to allow thinking to be displayed. These dark surfaces are both dramatic and unusual enough to allow displayed work to pop out a bit. The initial feature to be noticed in the first floor reading room, however, is the fire engine red floor, wall and ceiling. A central theme of the building, this hot “core” runs from the roof, through the existing courtyard, and down to the basement. It is derived from the Macaulay colors, but is a simple way to connect, orient and brand the building and college. It is just paint (and very low cost), but the effect is to unify and enliven a building that had been stripped of all interior character.

In the lecture hall adjacent to the reading room, a wood ceiling and wall were added to conceal the undersigned HVAC system and to add acoustical properties to the room. The curtain hides a blank wall that is occasionally used for presentations.

On the administrative floor, the open work areas keep the north and south halves of the building open and collaborative. Furniture is less typical “cubicles” and more like assembled tables and screens. The Dean has eschewed an office for a corner cubicle with her staff. The formal Dean’s Office on the floor below is used for group meetings, although it is furnished as her office might be. It is precisely this example that pervades the school’s ethic, spirit, attitude and ambiance. And that is something that we could never have designed.


Biber Architects worked with APA, the Ahuja Partnership Architects and Michael Bierut of Pentagram on the Macaulay Honors College