Having opened its doors in Spring 2023, this semester marks the first anniversary of NYU Shanghai’s Qiantan Campus. The university’s Provost, Professor Joanna Waley-Cohen, reflected on the past with an eye to the future in an interview coinciding with the campus’s one-year milestone.

“We first used just a small section of the ECNU (East China Normal University) campus when coming to Shanghai; it wasn’t ‘til 2015 that the Century Avenue Campus opened its doors,” she recalled of NYU Shanghai’s initial years.

“The Century Avenue campus was held in high regard for its central location but lacked the space and practicality of the current campus,” she said. It was too vertical, she added, too small, and too difficult to navigate, with the elevators taking far too long due to the greater number of levels inside the building. 

As to the timing of the change and, specifically, why go to the New Bund, she said, “We were growing, and that was the plan, so when looking for a new location, the Qiantan offer seemed pretty great.” NYU Shanghai, being a collaborative project between NYU, the City of Shanghai, and the District of Pudong, is more than just a campus; it’s seen as a statement, a living embodiment of its mission. And that was intentional in its design.

Our architects won awards for the creation of the building, directly asking students and faculty what they wanted to implement,” Professor Waley-Cohen said. “The stairs are quite beautiful with their screens, invoking a sort of Chinese style. Due to our affiliation with the District of Pudong, the new campus was always going to be in this part of the city, and it was around the time of the creation of the New Bund, a model area center for culture and education, that we decided to place it here.”

She said it is wonderful to be a part of building a new area in Shanghai, which, although being a very old city, is also rapidly developing. “When I first came to Shanghai as a student in the 1970s, I didn’t have any photos of Pudong,” she said. “You’d look across the river and see nothing but fields; it’s remarkable.”

Professor Waley-Cohen regards accessibility as “very important” for any campus and acknowledges student complaints about a lack of it at Qiantan, particularly for wheelchair users. “It doesn’t really matter whether you have one or fifty people with accessibility issues, you still need to think about how to make life easier for them,” she said. She also agreed the school elevators need to have an auditory alert to notify of their arrival. 

As for the next stages of development, areas in the East Building which remain unfinished “are going to be our research centers, allowing us a central location for all research, as well as new offices. We wanted to wait before finishing, seeing what exactly we needed.” 

Professor Waley-Cohen believes that undergraduate class sizes will remain similar to this year, but the graduate student body will increase. “It may be that we eventually need more space, but I don’t think it will be immediate.”