181 Mercer provides academic, athletic, and housing for students and faculty at the edge of New York University's distributed urban campus. Illustration by Brooklyn Digital Foundry

How can a multi-use building in New York City embody the spirit of a university and foster new ways to connect, work, and learn?

Centered around Manhattan's Washington Square Park, New York University's campus exists within a dense mix of traditional and modern buildings. Because of this urban campus, the school's various programs are dispersed across a number of separate buildings, each functioning with far less space than the University's peer institutions. Based on University planning studies, NYU needed to increase space for faculty and students to strengthen its academic culture. In addition to more classrooms, the University needed specialized space for its renowned performing arts programs, student and faculty housing, and athletic facilities. Working in collaboration with Davis Brody Bond, KieranTimberlake designed a building on the campus's southern edge that would graciously accommodate NYU's academic needs, embody its character and vibrancy, and offer new ways for the University to engage with its own community and the larger city of New York.


Designed to optimize interactions between diverse student groups and academic disciplines, 181 Mercer includes classrooms, informal study spaces, performing arts theaters, rehearsal and practice rooms, varsity sports arenas, a recreational sports gymnasium, and a café, as well as faculty and first-year student housing. Each of these spaces will be organized into unique “neighborhoods,” all of which will be connected to an open and expansive commons that provides collaborative study, meeting, and gathering places.

A north-south cross-section shows 181 Mercer's spaces for teaching, learning, performing, rehearsing, practicing, studying, and collaborating, as well as a new gym and student and faculty housing. Illustration by KieranTimberlake

181 Mercer's design takes advantage of its 360-degree relationship with the neighborhood by placing hallway circulation along its transparent perimeter and classroom and instructional spaces towards the center of the building. This reversal of conventional building organization will provide faculty and students with one-of-a-kind city views while also giving outside observers a sense of the building's activity. This distinct layout, along with the building's prominent stairways, creates a sense of openness and connection by encouraging the casual encounters and intellectual exchanges that are at the center of the NYU experience. Outside, the design continues to develop connections by creating a new pedestrian “greenway” that links two major thoroughfares along the building's west side.


Designed in support of the NYU Climate Action Plan, 181 Mercer is committed to environmental responsibility and takes advantage of sustainable design strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and the amount of waste generated during both construction and everyday use. The building will be connected to NYU's existing Co-Generation (CoGen) facility, a highly efficient, natural-gas-fueled power plant that simultaneously produces electricity, heat, and chilled water. In contrast to conventional energy sources, the CoGen plant substantially reduces not only the amount of resources used, but also greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.

181 Mercer's series of green roofs and outdoor terraces will serve as an elevated campus quad while also managing rainwater runoff and naturally cooling the building and its surroundings. Illustration by Brooklyn Digital Foundry

In addition to using cleaner energy, the building's design itself minimizes its carbon footprint. The transparent facade and its use of glare-reducing strategies, for example, lower energy requirements by allowing the building to rely primarily on natural light during the day. Similarly, 181 Mercer's series of green roofs and outdoor terraces will naturally cool the building and its surrounding landscape while also helping to manage rainwater runoff. In addition to creating valuable outdoor green space that will serve as a kind of elevated campus quad, these roofs and terraces will be an attractive amenity for the building's neighbors who will be able to view the landscape from above.  
By bringing together an eclectic mix of spaces into a single building designed to encourage connections and community engagement, 181 Mercer will build a multidisciplinary community that will define the University's creative and academic diversity.