Lehman College, the APEX

Research into the College’s programmatic requirements expanded the brief and shifted the site to the northern boundary of the Campus and the end of its main axis, where a gap in its urban-scale stainless steel clad roof serves as a primary gateway.

This building was originally conceived as a conventional physical education facility that is part of the City University of New York. The program, however, was redefined to a large extent during the design process, after an in-depth analysis of the client’s real needs. The final design, while meeting the functional requirements of the college’s physical education program and providing performance and ancillary spaces, also makes an urban planning gesture by providing a northern boundary for the Lehman College campus and completing its main circulation axis, thereby allowing the building to function as a gateway.

With the agreement of the commissioning body, Rafael Viñoly Architects analyzed existing athletic facilities at comparable institutions and conducted an extensive study of the needs and preferences of students and faculty at Lehman College. As built, the facility includes a main gymnasium, an auxiliary teaching gymnasium, and, what was at the time of its completion, New York City’s only indoor Olympic-size competition swimming pool, along with other training facilities, offices, locker rooms, and a ballet theater.

The building’s roof, a segmented convex curve, descends almost to the ground on the campus side. On the “street” side, it is supported by a concrete-and-glass-walled structure housing classrooms and administrative offices. A rectangular, asymmetrically positioned cutout in the roof frames a lobby and a grand staircase that together constitute the primary entrance to the complex. From outside the campus, this entrance is expressed as a monumental quadrangular opening in the concrete façade. Serving as a ceremonial gateway to the college, the building has, since its completion, taken on an iconic status, symbolizing the college within the surrounding community and promoting a sense of openness and accessibility.