The Music Building in its Many Forms

24 02 2009

So, a little background story to this entry. One of the things that I’m in charge of for my fraternity is maintaining the alumni newsletter. So, I had to send snail mail and a typed letter to the publishing company. Much to my annoyance, the nearest computer lab to where I was at the time was in Lincoln Hall, the music building.

Well, I’ve never printed anything at Lincoln before, so when I selected printers, i accidentally sent it to 374 MTH instead of the MUSIC printer. I being off not-so-sound mind apparently managed to read that as 374 MUSIC, so I went up and began searching the third floor.

Then I found this display. Realizing its worthiness for writing materials, I grabbed my camera and took a few photos.




It seems the above pictorials date from ca. 1900, and were proposed designs for a combined Architecture and Fine Arts building. No word on where the building would have been built.



This Collegiate Gothic design was proposed in the late 1920s, and would have been where Gannett Health Center stand today. Alas, the plan never saw the light of day due to budget cuts brought on by the Great Depression.





This modernist structure was proposed in 1950, and would’ve been built where Noyes Lodge stands today. Considering this school’s record of modern architecture, part of me is glad this never saw construction.

News Tidbits 2/15/09: The Collegetown Zoning Proposal

15 02 2009

Collegetown Neighborhood Council Details Building Plans

It has been almost a year since consultants visited Collegetown to develop a vision for renewal and nearly six months since an entire book was compiled to lay out the plans that will bring make that vision a reality. Last night, the Collegetown Neighborhood Council devoted its bimonthly meeting to update the status of the Collegetown development plan.

The meeting had approximately 30 attendees. According to Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward), co-chair of the CNC, the meeting had a much larger turnout than usual, attesting to the interest on the development plan.

Tomlan introduced the meeting; she described the “wish to make Collegetown more lively, more diverse and more beautiful” and explained the complexity of the zoning plans. The proposed zoning includes requiring pitched roofs and side porches. Other proposed legislation includes reducing building heights from 40 ft to 35 ft, limiting the number of stories in a building from four to three and reducing the maximum percentage of lot coverage from 35 percent to 30 percent.

Leslie Chatterton, head of historic preservation and neighborhood planner, detailed the plan. She explained that a more diverse and a less cyclical population needed to be encouraged in order to attract more retailers. The plan is intended to significantly increase the density of central Collegetown while maintaining and restoring the residential feel of the outer Collegetown areas. It is also meant to improve the aesthetics of the area through the gradual lowering of buildings heights as one moves from central Collegetown towards the outer areas.

The building plan divides Collegetown into six areas. The center of Collegetown, which extends down to Catherine Street, is given the most attention. Building heights will be increased to 90 ft and there will now be a seven-story limit. It will also be mandatory that the ground floors of these buildings be used for retail, and it will be encouraged to make this central property and its rent the most expensive.

The second area in Collegetown discussed is called the Village Residential area. According to the plan, this area is supposed to adjoin townhouse styled homes with a four-story limit. Chatterton explained that this area is intended to attract graduate students, younger couples and new Cornell faculty, rather than undergraduate students.

The rest of Collegetown will be less dense and is meant to have a residential feel. Building heights will be limited to two-and-a-half stories and the structures of the houses are supposed to remain the same. However, Leslie Chatterton, historic preservation and neighborhood planner, also mentioned that many of these homes are rundown and need to be redeveloped for health and safety reasons.

Jennifer Dotson, a member of the neighborhood council and chair of the common council’s planning committee, spoke about the plan for the new transportation moratorium, which includes parking, busses and regular car traffic. The transportation subcommittee has not yet met, so few details are available.

Some developers at the meeting were unhappy with the plans. John Yengo, commercial manager of the Ithaca Renting Company, said that although he “support[s] growth and planning” he is frustrated by the length of time that the building rules are in limbo.

Sharon Marx, Property Manager of Ithaca Renting Company, agreed.

“It is very frustrating because developers can’t develop. The city has had a year and a half to do this and they still have not made their rules. In the meantime everyone’s hands are tied,” Marx said.

Yango explained that nobody wants to buy property because they are still waiting to see what the new rules will be.

Tessa Rudan ’89, a former Collegetown business owner who has lived in the area since 1967 said she did not trust the research of the hired consultants.

“It seems like they extrapolated a lot of data from all over the place and just applied it to Collegetown,” Rudan said.

Tomlan, however, seemed more optimistic.

“It has been a lot of work and I am hopeful that we will make Collegetown better than ever,” Tomlan said.


Well, considering the city and Cornell forked over $75,000 each, and Goody Clancy is a fairly reputable firm, I don’t think Ms. Rudan has to worry so much.

Now, for the sake if discussion, let’s consider the latest zoning guidelines derived from the plan (pulled from the city website [1]).


The zoning shown on the properties is for the maximum number of stories allowed on a proposed structure without having to request a zoning variance (which would give Mary Tomlan a heart attack cause a lot or red tape, possibly killing a project or dragging it out for years). The corresponding heights are given and explained in the red box below. Theoretically, the tallest building in Collegetown under the new guidelines would be either 7 stories OR 92 feet in gross height (this included any mechanical or decorative structures on the rooftop). This is relatively appropriate; commercial structures typically have 14/15 foot floor-to-ceiling heights per floor, and residential floors typically are around 10 feet (a 30-story condo tends to average around 290-320 feet, while a 30-story office building without decorative spires, etc. tends to be around 400-450 feet).

Approximately 24 properties fall into this highest category. Of these, roughly have are already developed into large structures. Since it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to replace a five-story from the 1980s building with a six-story building, those properties are unlikely to be redeveloped in the near future (example properties: Eddygate Park, 402 College Avenue [Starbuck’s], Sheldon Court, the east block of 400 College Ave, Collegetown Plaza). Only a few instances of financially sound redevelopment could be proposed under the highest category (possible properties would be 404 College [M&T Bank], the old Kraftee’s building, the new Kraftee’s building, the Green Café [currently under construction on the corner], the liquor store, and perhaps the Korean restaurant). Keep in mind that beyond the fifth floor, a 12-foot setback is required before the building can continue adding floors.

Collegetown “canyon”? For about a 1,000 feet down the road, if you call seven stories a canyon.

The surrounding ~35 properties to this central core have a max height of 5 stories or 68 feet. Keep in mind, this is on the assumption that the building will be mixed use, meaning retail at the bottom (technically, office space counts towards mixed use too, but it seems odd to imagine office buildings in Ctown).


Most of the surrounding zones fall into the other two categories under the current zoning proposal: Village Residential (VR) and Traditional Residential (TR). OS is for open space, which considering the proximity to the gorges, someone would have to be out of their mind to build there anyway. Traditional residential represents single-family detached houses (in other words, no change to the current structures in those areas). These strcutues are expected to have porches and hipped roofs (I think I can hear the modernist architects crying from Rand Hall). Village Residential refers to townhouses, rowhouses, apartment buildings of comparable mass to rowhouses, and very large detached houses.

Notably, under these zoning laws, Cornell’s parking at the corner of Stewart Avenue and Williams Street would have to be VR- rowhouses or a lowrise (apartment style maybe?) dorm.

One more note: parking is largely reduced. The parking garage on Dryden might be expanded, but otherwise, it’s an at your own risk kinda thing. With higher density and more prominent mass transit to a denser living area, the need for cars tends to diminish anyway.


So, enough analysis. Here’s my opinion.

Tomlan graduated from Cornell in 1971. And she’s stuck in a Collegtown mindframe from 1971. When it was still largely a student slum of crappy tenement houses (like the ones on Linden, Cook and any other street close to the College/Dryden intersection). Development came. Demand came for luxury housing, and developers obliged.

Do I want to see Collegetown become a series of highrises? No. That was actually proposed in the late 1960s (which I mention elsewhere on this blog). but 90 feet is not going to end the world. It’s not going to make a whole lot of difference in a small, centralized area that’s largely developed anyway. Trying to preserve a bunch of dated, inefficient student slums by limiting developers’ ability to redevelop is not the way to go. I think the proposed plan is largely successful in fulfilling the needs of the area. The argument about mixed-demographics is off base; Cornell Heights, Bryant Park and later Cayuga Heights all developed thanks in part to the fact that many professors and staff prefer to live away from students, especially those with families. One group tends to prefer to get wasted at a bar on a Friday night, the other prefers to go out to a family restaurant and catch a movie. Students and permanent residents are inherently different in terms of schedules and needs from the ambient environment (ex. good schools, variety of shopping). Mixing the two will be like trying to mix oil and water, and it strikes me as a wasted effort. Families are not going to shop in Collegetown, that’s why we have Target at the mall and Wal-Mart down on the flats. The only place to two might mix is Fontana’s.


Miracles Do NOT Happen…

12 02 2009

So, let’s start with the article:

“A group of Cornell professors is urging the university to hold off on construction of Milstein Hall, citing concern about the economic recession and the building’s environmental footprint.

In response, a group of Cornell architecture faculty is urging the university to move forward, saying the new building is needed to keep its top-ranked department accredited.

The ultimate decision on whether to go forward with Milstein Hall lies with University President David Skorton, and he has not yet made that decision, Cornell spokesman Simeon Moss said Tuesday.

Skorton announced a university-wide construction “pause” in October. The pause extends through the end of the fiscal year in June.

“Basically all projects that don’t have a shovel in the ground are subject to the pause, and the president and the executive vice president are reviewing those projects,” Moss said. On whether Cornell will move forward with Milstein Hall, Moss said, “That decision by the president hasn’t been made yet.”

Throughout its city approval process, Cornell officials repeatedly said that Milstein Hall is not subject to the construction pause.

On Monday Mark Cruvellier, chair of the Department of Architecture, sent The Journal a joint statement in favor of Milstein.

“This is a building that is urgently needed by the Department in order to maintain our accreditations as a professional school of architecture,” reads the statement signed by 13 architecture professors. “The building permit is in hand, bids have been reconciled, and it is, in today’s parlance, shovel-ready. Given the current low cost of materials and competitive bidding situation, to delay construction of Milstein Hall yet again will only add to its cost.”

Cruvellier could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Milstein Hall has spent 10 years in the design and approval process, including two years gaining approvals from a variety of city boards. The city’s planning board and landmarks preservation commission have both signed off on the project.

Milstein Hall is proposed as a modern, glass structure that will physically connect with Rand and Sibley halls and stretch across University Avenue toward the Foundry. Another cantilevered extension would extend out into the arts quad.

A group of at least 25 Cornell faculty and alumni have petitioned the university to halt construction of Milstein, using The Cornell Daily Sun, other media and, today, the university’s faculty senate, government professor Elizabeth Sanders said.

Those opposed include an architecture professor, Jonathan Ochshorn, and music professor Martin Hatch, who has spoken against Milstein before a variety of city boards over the last two years.

Sanders contrasted the process and design for Milstein with Ithaca College’s new Park Center.

The Park Center received the highest rating possible from the U.S. Green Building Council, a LEED Platinum, and cost $19 million, according to the Ithaca College Web site.

“And we’re going to spend $60 (million) and get less space and much lower sustainability and a lot of offensive aspects?” Sanders said. “If Ithaca College can do this, why can’t Cornell do this?”

Andrew Magre, project manager for Milstein Hall and the Central Avenue Parking Garage, said last month the total project cost would be approximately $54 million.

Milstein Hall would be roughly 50,000 square feet, according to information presented to Ithaca’s planning board, and will include studio, gallery, meeting and exhibition space, and a 275-seat auditorium. The parking garage will include two underground levels and one surface level for a total of 199 parking spaces.”


Let’s consider the Park Center for a moment.

Photo by Granger Macy

Photo by Granger Macy

The Park Center was a $19 million dollar project to build a 38,800 sq ft building [1] on the Ithaca College campus that was completed in early 2008 (it’s also the building that caught fire during the fourth of July celebrations).

So, let’s consider some key differences between the Park Center and Milstein Hall.

-Milstein is cantilvered and is connected to two structures that are a century old (Rand Hall) and ~110 years old (East Sibley). Park Center isn’t. The area was home to a green space that bordered a parking lot (and oddly enough, was not a suggested building site on the Ithaca College master plan [2], and to the contrary seems to throw off the master plan by cutting off the proposed green avenue through the main campus).

-Milstein had to go through red tape hell after Paul Milstein’s original $10 million donation in 2000. Park Center was launched with a major donation from Dorothy Park in 2002 [1]. The cost has gone from somewhere in the 20 million dollar range when first proposed to $40 million from a couple of years ago to about $54 million today. I wonder if that total includes the $2 million Cornell paid for University Avenue so they could actually build the damn building.

-Milstein incorporates a parking garage, auditorium, and bus stop. Park Center has a large atrium, but otherwise it’s mostly offices and smaller lacture spaces [1]. Park Center is LEED platinum (highest ranking), and Milstein is gold (second highest ranking).

My issue is that the comparison does an unfair presentation of facts. If we were to plop Milstein out on the alumni fields or near the vet school, I bet it would be a lot of cheaper too. Park Center didn’t have the red tape issues or ambient environment issues that Milstein Hall has to deal with.

My other issue is that some people are finding fault with the modern design. Let’s not start that crap again. In my own opinion. this is probably the least offensive design of the three that have been planned, if but just because it spares Rand from the wrecking ball. I’ll admit I’m no fan of it, but it’s less jarring than the previous two proposals. For one thing, architecture schools have a habit of wanting to be on the cutting edge of design (makes sense, considering building design is much of their field). Plus, the design is going to be different, because if people want to preserve Rand and Sibley the building has to build up or out. Being on the Arts Quad, I’m willing to wager some passionate people would rather burn the construction site down than let it build up.

As much as this site is a Cornell construction monitor, and as I much as I actually like seeing new projects go forward, I’m really torn opinion-wise. Yes, I’d like to see the the architecture build-out so it can have more (badly-needed) space. However, with operations cuts across the board, I don’t see a good reason this should be spared. My concern, however, is that prices will continue to skyrocket, costs will be prohibitive and the project will have to go back to the drawing board again, and AAP will have a crisis due to its trip through red tape hell.


“#731”: This Post Went Without A Title for Four Years

4 02 2009

I guess if Cornell is going to put off all non-current construction until at least June 30 (see Skorton e-mail), I’d better go back to campus touring.


The Biotechnology building. So bland we didn’t even bother to give it a real name (or Cornell just hasn’t seen the right dollar amount—one of the two).  The 150,000 sq. ft building was completed in 1986 (which might just as well be the height of modern-design blandness) by the firm Davis and Brody [1].  I guess when comparing this to Comstock Hall, which was also built in the mid-1980s, this is a mild improvement. The building, as the name suggests, focuses on biotechnology research, such as genetics and molecular biology. The building’s use is strictly research, housing 36 faculty, 50 post-docs, and about 100 graduate students [2]. Along with its primary use, the building houses a small dining facility and the Keller reading room.


When it was first completed in 1931 [1], the Plant Science building was the largest single dedicated to plant research in the world (its about 170,000 gross sq ft [4]. The building was designed by Sullivan Jones in the Beaux-Arts style, but I’d venture a guess that it’s a stripped Beaux-Arts style, because the ornamentation is quite restrained, and since it was finished at the start of the depression (the building did stay true to the initial design). Plant science serves as the home to the plant science and horticulture departments [3]. The building itself isn’t particularly attractive, but the Minns Garden on the south side is the showpiece of the grounds. The garden is named for former professor Lua Minns, who used it in the 1920s as a practice ground for her students to do hands-on gardening work [5]. However, the original plot of land was where Bailey Plaza and Malott Hall stand today.

Courtesy of the Cornell Chronicle

In case you’re wondering, the building between the garden and Bailey Hall is Liberty Hyde Bailey’s model rural schoolhouse, which was built in 1907 and probably lasted until demolition for Malott around 1960 [6].


Stimson Hall was completed in 1902 and designed by locally-renowned architect William Henry Miller [7]. While funded by Dean Sage (son of trustee Henry Sage for whom the Hall and Chapel are named), the building is named for Lewis Stimson, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Cornell Medical School. From 1902 to 1908, the medical school resided in Stimson Hall, but afterward it was relocated to New York City, where it still continues to exist today as Weill Cornell Medical Center. It should also be noted that part of the building was a morgue at this time.

Stimson was designed with the intention of a second identical building facing south to be built were Day Hall currently stands; but for whatever reason it was never built, so the south side looks a little incomplete, with a terrace that faces out into a parking lot today (the area between the two buildings was to function as a courtyard).

Today, Stimson Hall serves as the home of the Biological Sciences department, and the university Ombudsman (a person appointed by Day Hall to handle and address citizen complaints, according to Wikipedia [8]). When Kroch was built, Stimson was planned to be renovated into a library, but due to budget constraints, that was never undertaken. The tunnel between Kroch and Stimson was built to serve that purpose, but now it is only open for public use one day of the year—Slope Day [11].


Speaking of Day Hall, we might as well briefly discuss it. To no one’s surprise, Day Hall houses most of the upper administration offices; for example, Skorton’s office is on the 3rd floor. The building was designed by Frederick Ackerman in a stripped classical style and completed in 1947 [9] (offhand, I believe Ackerman also designed the Psi Upsilon and Sigma Phi fraternity houses fifteen years earlier). The building was dedicated shortly after completion to Edmund Ezra Day, Cornell’s fifth president (1937-1949). Before renovation, the building provided sleeping and bathing facilities on the third, fourth and fifth floors for faculty.

For another fun tidbit of history, Day Hall was taken over in a non-violent protest for three days in November 1993 [10].  The takeover stemmed from protests from Latino students over a combination of incidents and complaints with the university, including the vandalizing of a large art installation by a Latino artist, and lack of minority representation within Cornell faculty.

And for the last time, there is no tunnel that leads from Day Hall to the Cornell Store.











[11] -3/16/2004