Cornell University's plan for a new high-tech, applied-science campus on an island in New York City's East River moved to the next phase on Monday when the city kicked off a seven-month review process to determine whether NYC Tech can break ground on its first building in 2014. Pending approval, that building will be a five-story, 14,000-square-meter academic center consistent with the school's hands-on approach to learning.

The energy-efficient building will include just six classrooms, devoting most of its area to open work spaces where lessons can be transformed into entrepreneurial ideas and prototypes. As designed by Morphosis Architects, Inc., NYC Tech's initial building is expected to earn LEED Platinum designation from the leadership in energy and environmental design certification program, its highest rating, and will be the largest "net-zero" energy building in the eastern U.S., producing as much energy as it consumes thanks primarily to solar panels and geothermal wells.

If all goes as planned construction near the southern end of Roosevelt Island—a 52-hectare sliver of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens—would begin by April 2014, pending the outcome of a City Council vote.

Cornell has already put in motion various pieces of its plan. Earlier this month, the enrollment process began for the school's first offering—a one-year master of engineering degree that begins in January in temporary quarters. This program will be housed in a space in Manhattan that Google donated to NYC Tech for use until the Roosevelt Island campus opens in 2017. Initially, the island campus will support several hundred students. By the time its 18.6-hectare complex is fully operational in 2037, the program is expected to be able to accommodate as many as 2,000 students.

There is no specific application deadline for the new program. NYC Tech dean Daniel Huttenlocher says only that the school will be admitting a "handful of students"—in part because there are only four faculty members for what he calls the program's "beta" class. Among the instructors is Deborah Estrin, a computer science professor and founding director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at the University of California, Los Angeles. Former Twitter chief technology officer, Greg Pass, is also on board as NYC Tech's entrepreneurial officer.

Cornell, in partnership with Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, will eventually offer three interdisciplinary two-year master of applied science curricula as part of the NYC Tech program. The "connective media" offering will address the rapid changes in information sharing and its impact on society. Two other curricula are still pending approval by the university. "Healthier life" will focus on developing promising technologies to promote healthier living and improve the quality of health care while addressing issues that are driving up health-care costs. "Built environment" will engage students in the challenges of building environmentally friendly buildings and structures.

NYC Tech will also offer Cornell master and doctoral graduate degrees in fields including computer science, information science, electrical and computer engineering, and operations research and information engineering. Another expected course of study is an accelerated MBA program for students who have an advanced technical degree.

Each of the multidisciplinary degrees will have a similar structure that consists of four days each week devoted to engineering and entrepreneurship studies. Fridays, however, will feature a practicum that encourages students to consider the practical applications of their work and exposes them to other disciplines—such as law and design—that will prove useful as these budding entrepreneurs consider their postgrad careers.