The Cornell Master Plan: Part 1 of 5

22 07 2008

So, now that I’m done with the fraternity rush booklet, I’m going to do a new multi-part feature, this one focusing on the Cornell master plan. Look at it this way; I love reviewing the additions to Cornell’s physical plant, so this is the equivalent of giving a hit to a crack addict (okay, maybe not as detrimental to my health. But anyways…)

So, a little background. The plan was first initiated in late 2005 and took about two years to complete the final product [1], which was the culmination of the third and final phase of development. Up to that point, some open sessions were held at Willard Straight and at the Hilton Garden downtown (in Sept. 2007) for members of the community to comment on the findings, needs and projected developments of the university. The work was done by a Toronto-based planning firm, Urban Strategies Inc.

The plan tries to encompass the needs and concerns of the university and its physical plant. Among the primary issues, transportation and parking were major concerns, as well as maintaining a cohesive campus community and spatially harmonious design concepts in the planning of space throughout the campus. Also important was the development of additional facility to maintain Cornell’s capacity to be a top research institution.

So, the plan is set on the time scale of the next 10 to 25 years. The plan considers some of the following parameters; an increase of faculty from 1,600 to 1,700-1,800; an increase in graduate student population from 6,000 to 6,500-7,000; an increase of 700 staff from 8,400 to 9,100; and undergraduate to hold steady arond 13,500. The plan accomodates for 1-2 million more square feet of space, to be constructed in and around the Ithaca campus.

So, my goal is to pick this plan apart, piece by piece, and analyze the crap out of it. But if you want to see and read through the process that led them to create the parameters and design guidelines for the comprehensive master plan, here’s the link: (click on part I).

Clicking on part II’s “Core Campus” link, and sitting through the time that it takes for 76.99 MB to download, it opens up to a picture of Olin Libe and McGraw Tower. How pretty. Anyways, it talks about the importance of Central Campus as the hub of university activity. Here, they first mention the new 24-hour hub on the east side; that’ll be discussed more thoroughly in a later entry. One last thing- unless otherwise noted, no building is a concrete plan; they are merely suggestions as to a good way to develop the site. If master plans were always carried out to a tee, we’d have completely gothic west campus [3].

Yay for Prnt Scrn buttons! I’m not doing this with every page, just ones i’m going to focus on. Seriously, I suggest you go to the masterplan website, click on “part II”, “core campus”, and take a look. Or go to the listed source [2].

So, this is the overall plan. It worries me just a teeny bit when they mispell Bailey as “Baily”, since it is a whole area of discussion for them; but I can’t comment, my blog entries are filled with typos.

The page for demolished buildings and removed parking lots. the general goal of the master plan seems to be to hide the parking as much as possible, since it isn’t good for aesthetics, and isn’t pedestrian friendly. However, we still need it, so they shove it underground where possible. Milstein Hall would be a good example of that.

Development focus areas! Notice the massive changes on the east side of campus. Like I said, I’ll discuss those later, but they really stand out here.

The 3-D image of the improved Arts Quad. Mistein sticks out like an ugly chick in a beauty contest, but there’s hope for the Goldwin Smith extension, for  which planning is currently underway. I’m holding out for something modern yet respectful to the older architecture, like the addition to Lincoln Hall in 1998. 

The overhead. As you’ll notice in the pdf, Milstein has these symmetrical roof features at the top; I feel as if that was an attempt to spice up the miracle box. I’m still not impressed, but you can notice an extension that goes behing Sibley and behind Tjaden. I really hope the arrow means you can still walk between them. An extension of Milstein’s design is perhaps nto the most ideal, but maybe Cornell can come up with something good for the back areas of Tjaden and Sibley. You can also just make out the Johnson Museum addition, which area-wise looks small and quaint compared to the rest of the buildings. At a mostly subterranean 16,000 sq. ft, I s’pose it is.

New stuctures with the thick gray border have been given the go-ahead for planning. The footprints in blacks are areas of potential development suggested by the plan. As we see, the area behind Sibley and Tjaden is seen as the only reasonable space left to develop without disrupting the harmony of the ag quad. The next page states that these buildings would have the same height and massing as their older counterparts, but considering they’re home to Arts and Architecture, I would not be surprised if Cornell were to push for cutting-edge designs if they ever developed those plots, being artistcially daring and all. However, it’s amazing how cutting-edge can be so offensive to the eyes sometimes.

Buildings in mauve-purple? They’re historic. As much as I have a personal vendetta against Rockefeller Hall, particularly Room 203, it would be a major hassle to structurally change it. No demo there anytime soon (I think the story goes that the money John Rockefeller gave to the building went mostly to the interior mechanics, and little on the exterior and finishings, hence the spartan design. He hated it so much when he saw it he vowed never to donate money to Cornell again). My personal wonder is how the hell could Uris Hall be architectually significant. Is that like the equivalent of a massacre monument, to mark that something terrible happened on the land and we should all know about it? Uris Hall could be taken as a massacre on the eyes.

Also on this page are the noted sightlines for the Arts Quad; sightlines will play a bigger role in some others buildings on campus, as to whether they remain or not.

to be continued…






2 responses

23 07 2008

Great Blog,

I like you’re analysis. I’m generally perturbed about buildings like Milstein, Olin, Uris, etc. They seem to be unanimouly hated, how could they be built? How does the adminstration get away with it? How do the donors react?

The addition on Goldwin Smith looks awkard. It seems it would be easier just to extend the ends and make a square backside instead of the puzzle-peice they’ve drawn. I can’t wait to see the renditions.

That is an interesting factoid about Rockefeller. I always thought they could do a better job on it, and Baker as well. As for the new Physical Sciences building, the only good thing about it is that it will block the ugly view of Clark Hall.

The Johnson museum is the only modern building on campus that I think looks respectable. I’m not sure why that is either. Maybe because its slightly removed from everything else? I have good faith in its addition. I doubt the buildings behind Sibley and Tjaiden will be happening anytime soon considering how long Milstein has been taking.

I’ve noticed you haven’t mentioned the recommendation of demolitioning Day Hall? I think it’s a mistake. You know they are going to put up something a hundred times uglier. Though, if it helps get the school store out of the ground, I might be for it.

Other things that irk me:
– The additions on the Uris library (both of them). I actually hate the older addition more. The overall cross shape was very important to its aesthetic, and sticking a block into the corner of it is just heinous. At least the underground addition doesn’t affect the actual building too much (they should get rid of those glass stairs though)
– Olin Hall. It completely obscures Sage Hall. What’s in doing on Central Campus? The engineering ugly is creeping out of its quad. I swear I saw an earlier board with Olin Hall labeled pink for demolition and replaced with a slender building along the road that didn’t obstruct Sage. (I think Bradfield was also scheduled for demolition)
– The additions to Willard Straight. Although they look like they might fit in, I just don’t think they’re needed, or really will be needed. What really irks me is the interior of these old buildings. Renovations have killed some of their character. The plaster on the walls, the ugly lighting, etc. Parts of the Myron Taylor really standout as tastefully renovated when compared with other older buildings.
– I have a slew of others that I’ll wait until you discuss them in your blog entires.

23 07 2008
Matthew Nagowski '05

Another great post! And your pace of posting is to be admired as well!

I differ a bit when it comes to Uris Hall and Olin Library. Both are fine, albeit Olin’s facade needs a clean-up (which it is getting). And Uris is aging quite well from the outside, even if the inside layout leaves a lot to be desired.

I have also read somewhere that Olin Hall may get the axe sometime soon.

I actually think the additions to the Straight (or more generally, more student programming space for both undergrads and grads) are needed. The Lofts in the Straight are always reserved, and good luck getting the Memorial Room for any evening function. But, agreed that the insides of the Straight could be spruced up.

I think my biggest problem with the Master Plan is the demolition of Day Hall and converting the Campus Store lot back to more green space. Day Hall should stay (what’s wrong with it?) and a larger 4-5 story multi-use building with a new store, academic, and administrative offices should be built on the Campus Store lot. If Central Ave. is Cornell’s version of Locust Walk, it needs more density, not less.

Otherwise, more needs to be discussed about programmatic location. Is Stimson really the best use for the undergraduate biology offices? (Surely the Ag Quad is a better place?) And is Mallott the best location for Mathematics?

Enough. I’m writing enough to warrant a post on my own blog…

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