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New Structure Stitches School Together

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Best Higher Education

Image by Matthew Carbone/Architectural Photographer
Image by Matthew Carbone/Architectural Photographer
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For years, Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art and Planning in Ithaca, N.Y., was housed in four separate and distinct buildings. But rather than tear them down to build one large new building, the school opted to knit a few of them together. The result is a 47,000-sq-ft structure—fitted between Sibley and Rand halls like a jigsaw puzzle piece—that juxtaposes glass-and-steel against the older buildings' stone-and-brick facades.

The $42-million project broke ground in 2009 and includes two stories with a sub-basement. Forty-one skylights dot a green roof planted with drought-tolerant sedum. Among the project's major features are two cantilevers, supported by five hybrid steel trusses; one of the cantilevers, on the second floor, juts 48 ft over busy University Avenue.

Below the structure, a large sunken dome encloses a 5,000-sq-ft space. The dome, a standout of the interior but less visible outside, also provides the incline for a 253-seat auditorium located on its west side. It was made with 70 tons of curved, reinforcing steel and 250 cu yd of concrete, which had to be poured in a single 12-hour period. Within the dome is a column-free, two-level, 5,000-sq-ft critique space, whose upper reaches are crossed by a 70-ft molded concrete truss bridge.

Building materials for this project are about as international as Cornell's student body: Turkish marble, Finnish chairs and Canadian metal panels.

The project took about two years to complete. Cleanliness was emphasized so that it would be ready at any moment for spontaneous drop-ins, says Welliver, the construction manager. In fact, contracts stipulated that the work site must be cleaned daily and weekly.

"Because many subcontractors had worked with Welliver before and on campus, they understood and respected the importance of this seemingly minor detail," Welliver says. "Throughout the project duration, the site facilitated project tours by both internal and external groups at Cornell, including Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas.

Milstein Hall, Ithaca, N.Y.

Key Players

Owner: Cornell University

Construction Manager & Masonry: Welliver

Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates

Lead Designer: OMA

MEP Engineer: Innovative Engineering

Submitted by: Welliver

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