As a new engineering-school powerhouse rises in downtown Brooklyn, its students are already sensing the arrival of something big. “We’re feeling more energy here now. It makes coming to school more exciting,” said Jason Candreva, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering, as he headed up to gleaming new lab space at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. NYU is investing more than $500 million in new facilities and programs at the Brooklyn-based school, aiming to enhance its position as a hub of the borough’s burgeoning tech sector. When it opens for classes this fall, the crown jewel will be the refurbished former MTA headquarters at 370 Jay St., where the school will occupy four floors and almost double its downtown space to more than 1 million sq. ft.
The transforming event for the school was the 2014 merger of NYU with Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Institute, which was founded in 1854. More than 5,000 students now attend classes in a cluster of buildings in the MetroTech Center; the new addition will enable the school to expand the student body by another 1,100.
More than just adding classrooms and labs, the renovations will give the school a more congenial street-level presence. A glass-fronted lobby will house a restaurant, a 200-seat theater and a technology center that will be open to the public. “We’re planning a whole range of spaces that link technology to the community at the ground-floor level so that what was a closed, falling-down sort of building will be much more open and inviting,” said Bob Berne, an NYU executive vice president who’s coordinating the 370 Jay St. development, which will have several other tenants in addition to Tandon. “Our plan is to attract retailers who will enhance life in that neighborhood.”
Positive Ripple Effects
The school’s expansion is likely to resonate well beyond downtown. “Local businesses are attracted to Brooklyn, startups are attracted here, the incubators we have are chock full, and students want to live in the area,” said Berne. “If you look at the demographics, the Tandon school is a very powerful engine for development in many parts of Brooklyn.” Doctoral candidate Candreva, who commutes from Bensonhurst, cited the school’s downtown location as an important draw. Notes Berne: “You can get to almost any subway line that goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan and even Brooklyn to Queens.”
Tandon’s development, as well as expansion by a prominent neighbor, are turning Jay Street into a kind of Engineering Avenue. New York City College of Technology, the CUNY school informally known as City Tech, is building its own shiny new showpiece, an eight-story academic building at 285 Jay St. Four stories of classrooms will hover over an 800-seat gym and a 1,000-seat auditorium with a dramatic, curved top. City Tech has an enrollment of 17,000 students, almost half of whom live in Brooklyn.
The Name and the Donors
The Tandon school’s new name, adopted in 2015, was prompted by a $100 million donation from an entrepreneurial couple, Chandrika Tandon, an investment-advisory company founder and musician, and her husband Ranjan Tandon, an engineer by training who founded a hedge fund. “Engineering is not just making machines move,” Chandrika Tandon told the Wall Street Journal. “Technology permeates every discipline, and that’s the future of solving the world’s problems.”
The mission of Tandon is much in keeping with its donor’s philosophy. Tandon operates such tech incubators as the MakerSpace, the Game Center and Future Labs, all of which follow entrepreneurial paths. So far, 68 companies have graduated from the school’s startup programs. “We are in a golden age for creative content making and new ways of telling stories,” Allyson Green, dean of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, said in a recent statement. “We’re going to see new technologies created and be able to prepare our students for jobs in fields that have not even been created yet.”
What’s happening inside the buildings may change the world, but what’s happening at street level will immediately change the neighborhood. David Reiss, a professor at nearby Brooklyn Law School, has been walking past 370 Jay St. since he was a 10-year-old student at Packer Collegiate Institute. “That building has always been bedraggled, under-utilized and covered in scaffolding for many years,” he told The Bridge. He praised the school’s renderings of a welcoming lobby and open stairways as a major improvement. Jay Street’s reputation as a rather cold, steely thoroughfare may soon be a thing of the past.