Weill Greenberg Center creates a striking and singular new identity for the Weill Cornell Medical College and for healthcare (figure 1). Replacing an unsightly parking lot, the 330,000-square-foot, 15-story building is the first stage in Weill Cornell Medical College’s master plan to create a campus west of York Avenue on Manhattan’s densely-built Upper East Side (figure 2).

© David Sundberg/Esto

© David Sundberg/Esto

Linked by a central atrium, the new unified research, academic, and clinical facilities will help to reverse the image of the college, which currently occupies disparate, disconnected, and outdated buildings. This complex is intended to fulfill the institution’s mission to provide the finest education for its medical students, to conduct cutting edge research, to improve the healthcare of the nation and the world, and to provide the highest quality clinical care to the community. In addition to providing a much needed campus for this urban College, these new buildings will positively contribute to the architectural quality of the neighborhood’s street life (figure 3).

© Aislinn Weidele/Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP

© Aislinn Weidele/Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP

Completed: January 2007

Client: Weill Cornell Medical College

Design Team: Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP/Ballinger

Architecture: Polshek Partnership Architects (Todd H. Schliemann, FAIA, Design Partner; Duncan R. Hazard, AIA, Management Partner; Thomas J. Wong, AIA, Senior Designer; Lois E. Mate, AIA, Project Manager; Craig McIlhenny, AIA, Project Architect)

Healthcare Architecture: Ballinger (Louis A. Meilink, Jr., AIA, ACHA, Principal; Eric Swanson, AIA, Principal; Kusrin Dhamawongse, Senior Interior Designer, Project Manager)

Structural Engineering: Severud Associates

MEP Engineering: Atkinson Koven Feinberg Engineers

Healthcare Interiors/Furniture: Ballinger

Photography: © David Sundberg/Esto; © Aislinn Weidele/Polshek Partnership Architects, LLP; © Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Construction Management: Bovis Lend Lease

Building Area (sq. ft.): 330,000

Construction cost: N/A

Cost per square foot: N/A

Identity and context

Antonio M. Gotto Jr., MD, Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, said at the opening of the Weill Greenberg Center in January 2007: “This new ambulatory building brings together the students, the practitioners, the healers, the researchers, and the educators in one site.” It was the college’s goal that the new Weill Greenberg Center forge a new identity for the college that recognizes the stature of the college’s eminent physicians and its cutting-edge approach to healthcare and medical education. The desire for an iconic new facility had to be balanced with the surrounding urban context, in particular the existing medical center campus, which represented an amalgamation of architectural styles developed over time.

The Weill Greenberg Center establishes a new institutional identity for the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and heralds a new era in personalized medicine. Inspired by the tranquility of a spa environment, the design of this world-class center optimizes the patient experience to promote health and healing and reinforces the institution’s state-of-the-art clinical services. In addition to housing the most up-to-date clinical facilities, the Weill Greenberg Center provides a central medical conference center and physician training in its Clinical Skills and Teaching Center.


Sheathed entirely in glass, which was selected for its open, transparent qualities and experiential elegance, the Weill Greenberg Center symbolizes the progressive identity of the institution. The water-white, ceramic, fritted-glass curtainwall, which is cut into long vertical facets (figures 4, 5), veils the building, generating a softness and depth for the building’s undulating reflective surface. From the interior, this translucent skin subdues the hustle and bustle of the city and gently shapes the flow of natural light.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The repetitive geometries and unitized construction methods of the curtainwall allowed an economical construction process that contributed to the project’s timely, on-budget completion. The vertical faceting of the fritted glass also reflects the gothic motif of the original New York Hospital campus across York Avenue, replicating elements of the existing campus while establishing a striking new identity for the college and healthcare.

Complex client group

Planning, programming, and designing the Weill Greenberg Center required balancing the interests and priorities of multiple constituencies. The success of these efforts is evidenced though the building providing a gracious, orderly, and nonstressful environment for patients visiting its multiple clinical departments, including cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, neurology, reproductive medicine, ophthalmology, and otorhinolaryngology, as well as an efficient and pleasant environment for the physicians, students, and staff who work there every day.

Patient environment

As with any healthcare facility, one of the greatest challenges in the design of the Weill Greenberg Center was to create a comfortable environment for patients, visitors, doctors, and staff. Bassem El-Masri, MD, Helen and Robert Appel Clinical Scholar at Weill Cornell Medical College, said: “It is important for the patient … whether it is a research patient or a clinical patient, to come to a bright office, to come to a spacious place where they can feel comfortable.”

The Weill Greenberg Center is a Pebble Project, a research program developed by The Center for Health Design. Research has shown that a well-designed facility can reduce patient and healthcare provider stress, resulting in improved patient outcomes. Throughout the design and construction process, the building was evaluated for its contribution to evidence-based design.

The use of clear wayfinding cues facilitates visitors’ finding their ways around the building, alleviating anxiety. Ample daylight orients patients and visitors, and the incorporation of natural materials warms the interior and creates a welcoming, familiar environment (figure 6). In the main lobby and throughout the arrival sequence, a series of water features whose aural and visual characteristics enhance the sense of calm combine with diffused natural light to ease patient stress and anxiety. Materials such as wood, travertine, and Cor-Ten steel, which were selected for their tactile, visual, and associative qualities, constitute the lobby’s material palette. Large windows on the perimeter maximize daylight and provide views to the city. Temperature is carefully balanced and managed in patient spaces.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Intimate seating alcoves located throughout the lobby and public spaces, translucent art walls, and comprehensive, private staff facilities contribute to the high standard of care provided by this outpatient facility. On every floor, computers are accessible to patients seeking to learn more about their conditions. In addition, the Patient Resource Center on the second floor (figure 7) is a comfortable open space and library dedicated to patient education; patients and their families may access all of the databases available in the Medical College library.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

A convenient interior vehicle drop-off, which opens directly into the ground floor lobby, ensures seamless and private patient arrivals and departures. The underground parking facility serves 150 cars and is accessed directly from the drop-off. Accessibility and ease-of-use are supported by the incorporation of valet parking and a high level of personalized service typically associated with a fine hotel.

Teaching and research facilities

The Weill Greenberg Center combines state-of-the-art medical education, ambulatory care, and translational clinical research in one singular identity, providing a new face for healthcare. The 10,500-square-foot Clinical Skills Center is a state-of-the-art teaching and evaluation facility that allows faculty to assess the communication and clinical performance of students (figure 8).

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The building includes a state-of-the-art teaching and testing facility. Its 12 enlarged exam rooms (figure 9) simulate outpatient and inpatient settings: medical students interact with “standardized patients” in realistic, controlled environments where they learn to obtain medical histories, diagnose conditions and communicate treatment options. Faculty assess students through two-way mirrors, while cameras, microphones and intercom systems assist with training, allowing in-depth analysis and constructive feedback among standardized patients, students, and faculty. The facility also includes a case study room for training, Web conferences and remote viewing to the building’s clinical areas.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

A Patient Care Simulation Center uses a robot to simulate many symptoms and patient scenarios for student training. A Computer Aided Visual Environment space—a learning lab for computational biomedicine—allows students and faculty to experiment through a 3-D immersion environment. A separate 3-D virtual-reality theater allows researchers to visualize interactions within and among cells. Wireless technology is used throughout the building, and sensors are used to control lighting in offices and teaching spaces.

Research facilities within the building include the Institute for Computational Biomedicine, which utilizes large-scale computational simulation and information management to study genomes, proteomes, and complex physiological systems, and the 7,600-square-foot Department of Genetic Medicine, the nation’s foremost leader in gene therapy. The Department is undertaking clinical trials for cystic fibrosis and Batten Disease and is also involved in combating bioterrorism with intensive efforts focused on the development of an anthrax vaccine.

Impact on the community/regulatory processes

The 2004 master plan for the Weill Cornell Medical College campus began with an analysis of the development potential of the entire city block on which the proposed new building sites were located. Investigations included local traffic patterns, physical relationships between the various medical institutions and local landmarks, relative building heights, and view corridors to the East River. Weill Cornell’s concerns with regard to its neighbors and its institutional image and mission were carefully considered.

The campus master plan set the location and design parameters for the Weill Greenberg Center and future medical college buildings, including a potential research building, which is currently underway, and an academic facility. This triumvirate of new college buildings was conceived as a unique new campus within the city, centered on an outdoor space for the use of students, faculty, and visitors, and anchored by the Weill Greenberg Center, with its folded glass façade, as a symbol of the college’s presence.

The Weill Greenberg Center required numerous regulatory approvals from New York City agencies, including: reconsiderations from the Department of Buildings; variances from the Board of Standards and Appeals; and approvals from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Parks Department. It also received support from local community groups, in order to achieve a design that would satisfy the college’s program requirements and educational mission.

Variances to the zoning regulations included height and setback, floor area, rear-yard parking, and curb cuts; these required the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Study and approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals in a carefully strategized application process. Support from Community Board 8 was necessary—and particularly challenging, given community sensitivity to recent development by neighboring medical institutions. In order to satisfy floor area needs, zoning lot mergers were required, involving negotiation with representatives from neighboring buildings. Polshek Partnership Architects and Ballinger partnered with the Medical College to evaluate the regulations and to determine effective strategies for achieving the institutional goal of being sensitive to the community while advancing healthcare in the 21st century.

Healthcare Design 2008 November;():20-24