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Columbia University

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Columbia University

Jordan Fontana

Foundations of America

Columbia University of the City of New York


Stony Creek granite is a beautiful pink stone found in quarries in Branford, CT. Today the fifty acres is owned and protected by the town. The community is currently working together to build a museum in an old church in Branford. The idea of the museum is to inform people of the natural beauty of the Stony Creek quarries and Thimble Island and its history. The museum will demonstrate an understanding of the people who found and owned the Thimble Islands from the beginning, along with the impact of railroads and trade that allowed to granite to be exported all over the country. The intention of this museum is to show visitors how this beautiful natural resource, coming from the town of Branford has taken a national toll on many famous and distinguishing architects. Stony Creek granite has been used in the construction and architect of many construction projects including Grand Central Station, the Statue of Liberty, South Terminal Station and the Sony building. The small town of Branford and its beautiful natural resource has impacted the architectural beauty of places all over the world. Because of Stony Creek granites evident beauty and strength it is no surprise that it was imported for architectural use in the buildings at Columbia University of the City of New York.

university campusColumbia University was founded in 1754. It was previously known as King’s College, after King George II of England. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, and is the fifth oldest college in the United States.  In 1890 Barnard College for Women became associated with Columbia College. In 1896 Columbia College became Columbia University, and today the private institution is named Columbia University of the City of New York. Columbia University is a well known, established, and beautifully architected Ivy League school. After moving from 49th St. and Madison Avenue in 1897, the campus is currently located in Morningside Heights, New York along with a second campus in Washington Heights, New York sprawling over thirty acres of the city, along with two other campuses and observations outside of Manhattan and a recently bought campus in Manhattanville in 2007. Although the price was not disclosed, Henry Kravis pledged $100 million dollars in order to build the new business school which began planning in 2009. Currently the undergrad population is just under 6,000 students, however only 10% of students who apply are admitted to the university, demonstrating Columbia’s academic excellence and competitiveness (Princeton Review 2009).  Besides its academics and urban atmosphere, Stony Creek granitite is used in numerous buildings and landscape to distribute the beauty of this pink stone throughout the community. From its first academic building to its most recent built, Stony Creek granite has clearly remained within the original and current architectural beauty of the campus.

Original drawing of Morningside CampusBefore construction began, the university chose McKim, Mead and White architectural firm which was cemented by the partners Charles Follen McKim, William Rutheford Mead, and Stanford White, and was a wise choice due to their reputation of prominent designs. The architects were hired by Colombia University to design a campus that would appeal to students with an urban atmosphere. The partners along with their associates’ buildings are known to combine the neoclassical era, Rome and Greek styles. McKim, Mead and White designed and planned the entire Morningside Campus; including the Low Memorial Library, Philosophy Hall, John Jay Hall, Avery Hall, and Hamilton Hall. All which were built from1893-1900. However some construction projects, including the Stony Creek fountains in front of the Low Memorial Library, fell short of complete design, but were mostly added later when money was more readily available. Figure 3 shows the original drawing done by McKim, of the McKim, Mead and White firm in 1903 of the Morningside campus at Columbia University, including the use of Stony Creek granite. The most recent buildingsbuilt are an addition to the original plans designed in the late 19th century. The architect company is famous for also designing Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, Harvard Business School and The Boston Public Library in Boston, MA. In later years the prominent firm was bought by the firm Steinman, Cain and White in 1961 and ten years later it has now became known as the Walker O. Cain and Associates.

When the school moved from Forty-Ninth Street and Madison Ave to its current Morningside campus, the goal was to build an academic friendly campus with room for expansion. McKim, Mead and White architectural company’s most profound project to date is still the Morningside Campus of Columbia University. The original centerpiece of the campus is the Low Memorial Library located at West 116th Street and Broadway. Low Memorial Library

The library includes twenty-six granite stairs, and also the largest granite dome built to date. The first drawing included two fountains to be built at the stairs of the library, without the funds the fountains were built later. The two fountains were made of Stony Creek granite and the funds were donated by anonymous alumni. The fountains were designed after St. Peter’s of Rome and placed on each side of the library steps.


Many parts of Columbia University contain Stony Creek granite including much of the landscaping and curbing around each building and its use in many halls. However, within recent years a construction project has caught attention for its use of the granite. In the spring of 2007 construction began for an additional academic building on the Morningside campus, located on Broadway and West 120th Street. The project was named the Northwest Corner building. Its goal was to provide the students and faculty with a 14 story building which will include more faculty offices, classrooms, research facilities and labs in chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering.  The building would allow bridges for this building to connect and intertwine the other academic buildings originally planned by McKim, Mead and White but unsuccessfully finished. Plans of a building were shown to the university including one by James Stirling, but none were taken into consideration until recent years with the continuation of expanding the university’s academics and researching needs. The new building was the major step the university needed to link labs and intellects within the school’s campus. The Northwest Corner Building would allow for the additional space Columbia University needed to support its growing research facilities.

Before construction began, Columbia University hired two prominent architects Rafeal Moneo and David Brody Bond Aeedas to design the fourteen story building. By choosing these well-known and outstanding architects, Columbia University was hoping to achieve a permanent impact of intricate design. With the help of a significant anonymous donor and the Sherman Fairchild and Booth Ferris Foundations, the 15,000 square foot project building of the Northwest Corner Building began building that spring of 2007.

Structural design for Northwest Corner building

By 2007, the construction began under Turner Construction Company also known for building Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center in New York City.  The Northwest Corner building would be built over Columbia’s Levin Gymnasium.  Since the new building was over the gym, its construction would allow for a Northwest Courtyard. The completion of the courtyard was the long time goal of McKim, Mead and White firm. This was the last building original planned for the Morningside Campus with the architectural firm that designed its completion from the beginning. The only problem the construction team faced was building above the already in place gym. Originally the gym was built to support the building since it was designed to include the Northwest Corner building. However, due to construction restrictions, the design needed to include a sustainable system, making it into a floating building. Therefore the gym would not be holding up the construction project, and would not interfere with the use of the gym during the three years of construction.

Part of the design that Columbia University wanted to achieve was the use of Stony Creek granite, in order for the new building to compliment and follow the theme of the existing buildings on campus. The construction company requested 5,000 cubic feet of stone in order to maintain a granite platform for the Northwest Corner Building. The high quality stone was extracted the granite quarry on Bear Island of the Thimble Islands. The construction was completed for the fall of 2010 at the beginning of the academic year.

Flesh and Stone describes Bear Island as Goat Island Quarry is a private quarry. This island was bought by Thomas Pearson in 1870, and is also known for distributing granite to bridges across the Connecticut River. The nickname Goat Island came from the original Swedish descendants that kept their goats on the island use of milk.

Stony Creek granite’s use in major and many academic and residential halls has allowed  prosper students, alumni, visitors, and current students to see the beauty that comes from quarries in a small town, Branford CT. Overall the main focus researching Columbia University allows people to understand that from the very first center piece at the Morningside campus, to the most recent built the university still incorporates the natural beauty of Stony Creek granite.

Completed Northwest Corner building








  1. Deford, Deborah. Flesh and Stone: Stony Creek and the Age of Granite.
  2. Columbia University www.columbia.edu
  3. Seward, Aaron. In Detail: Columbia U.’s Northwest Corner Building. The Architect’s Newspaper. 6/03/09.
  4. Turner Construction Company website. http://www.turnerconstruction.com/newyork/content.asp?d=6005
  5. University Seminar on the History of Columbia University http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/cuhistory/archives/bergdoll.htm
  6. Columbia University Quarterly. Published by Columbia University Press, Volume XI Number 1. December 1906. http://books.google.com/books?id=UTMoAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA401&lpg=PA401&dq=stony+creek+granite+columbia+university&source=bl&ots=mYOpGHcX4x&sig=nz4XVirLOxd_3r-BcBlbdc5YN4Q&hl=en&ei=fae7TLjnLYee8waTnqDPCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBcQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=stony%20creek%20granite%20columbia%20university&f=false
  7. Linn, Charles. Nondestructive Testing Probes Dome’s Safety. Architect Record. http://archrecord.construction.com/features/archives/0303feature-1.asp
  8. The Princeton Review. 2010. www.princetonreview.com/columbia
Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 November 2010 17:52  


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Flesh and Stone

Flesh and Stone - Stony Creek and the Age of Granite - buy at Amazon.com
Available on Amazon

Uncirculated: Shrink wrapped in clear plastic from original Italian publisher, 1999. Ships with fresh samples of sparkling Stony Creek pink granite for historians, collectors, geologists and classrooms. Additional samples available upon request.