Greetings from Sunny Ithaca

17 03 2009

Yes, it’s spring break. I’m working in Ithaca and studying for a GRE I have in a few days.  It’s warmer than usual and sunny. No, Ithaca does not miss you. Anyways…


The building in the center of this image is Morrison Hall. Morrison, the home of the animal science major (pre-vet and non-pre-vet flavors) was built in 1961 [1]- hence the fact it’s a 133,000 sq. ft. characterless box (though I guess that’s better than the monstrosity next to it, the Boyce Thompson Institute).  The building was named for Frank B. Morrison, a professor and director of animal husbandry here at the university [2]. For the less recent alumni, the orange building in the back is the East Wing Addition to the Vet School that was completed in 2007. Yes, it has virtually, no windows. No one said Cornell’s modern architecture was known for its aesthetically pleasing qualities.


In contrast, as utilitarian as Baker was meant to be, it still retains some charm to it, probably from the classical columns and brickwork of the structure. According to Charles Wilcox [3], the initial designs for Baker were actually drawn up around 1910, which was six years before Morse Hall was destroyed in a fire. Funding for Baker came through in 1918, and during it construction the benefactor was anonymous. George Baker, a prominent New York banker who donated $1.5 million to its construction, only unveiled himself at the building’s dedication ( a similar experience occurred when Balch Hall was dedicated). The building had any number of problems from poorly maintained exhaust hoods to flooding in the basement to the ceiling being so low that chemical engineering could not fit in the building and so had to have a building of its own. Some of these problems were rectified when Baker was renovated in 1969, but others such as the flooding continue even into today.


In the same category as Morrison (the category being random ugly crap we threw up in the ’60s) is the Spencer T. Olin Laboratory Tower.  I like this because there’s a nice detailed story concerning its construction floating around the internet [3]. The construction of the building was overseen by a Chem department honcho by the name of William Miller; he was less concerned about winning prizes in an architectural journal and more about the building performing its function properly. The nine-story, 64,000 square foot building was built in 1967, with the intention of being flexible in its use for the Chemistry department. The exhaust structures on the sides were built in the 1990s, making an unattractive building downright ugly. Two of the issues encountered during its instruction were an underground cave that actually caused a caisson (a base support column, if you will) to collapse (they believed an ancient underground river once ran through the site), and that the tarpaulins caught fire on the side of the building ( a tarpaulin is designed to allow construction in cold weather; like what you see on the new Vet building here).


The last incident involving Olin is something that one would come to expect at Cornell. To quote Charles Wilcox’s paper:

“The decision to use an outside architect and to go for efficiency rather than beauty led to an amusing incident. The dedication of the new wing was held at the four-story interface between old Baker and the new wing. When President Perkins rose to give his speech, a group of students from the College of Architecture who had secretly gathered on the roof of the passageway unfurled a building-long banner that read MEDIOCRE and waved placards reading UGLY and VERY UGLY. The startled president stepped back to avoid being hit by weights at the bottom of the falling banner; although grazed he graciously laughed and responded: I question your judgment, but admire your logistics. It is not recorded what Bill Miller thought, but it is likely that he took secret pleasure in knowing that he had not wasted money on unproductive artistic features. ”

Oh architects! And we thought all you did was chain smoke, lock yourselves in Rand and burn dragons. Speaking of which,


Me passing up photos on Dragon Day would’ve been like a pedophile passing a playground (though not nearly as perverse).


Continuing our tour of building that were only built out of necessity, we have to mention Clark Hall. The homes of AEP and vanilla Physics, this 84-foot tall box was completed in 1965, and was named for W. van Alan Clark 1909, an Avon perfume scientist who donated $3 million towards its $7.3 million price tag [4]. So equivalently, that would suggest the donor for the new physical sciences building would have to donate about $33 million to the reconciled cost of $81 million [5]. I’m all for tapping in to Ratan Tata’s fortune to cover it.

By the way, if we can handle the height of Clark, I see no reason why we can’t handle a much slimmer building of similar height in Collegetown. Just saying.








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