Cornell Updates Upson Hall

31 10 2014

Fresh from the planning board’s first look, here are the renovations Cornell plans to do on Upson Hall. Upson Hall, named for long-time trustee and big donor Maxwell Upson 1899, was built in 1956, and is part of the interconnected octopus of buildings that makes up the eastern half of the engineering quad, connected directly with Grumman and Duffield (with which it shares walls), and Phillips and Rhodes. 5-story Upson occupies about 160,000 sq ft, of which 142,000 sq ft is usable space, which has most recently been occupied by the computer science and mechanical/aerospace engineering departments.


The renovations to Upson are just one more step in many taken, or to be taken, to update and expand facilities Cornell’s engineering school. The plans have been underway since Duffield was built 10 years ago, and have evolved with the changing needs of the school. For instance, the original plan had Hollister and Carpenter Halls being demolished to make way for a larger building, which can be seen in the Cornell Master Plan of 2008. But, this plan was tabled as a result of the recession, and that individual proposal was never revived. Similarly, early Gates Hall plans had a building site just south of Thurston, facing the gorge. Currently, work is underway to renovate Kimball Hall, with a summer 2015 completion and $15 million price tag. There is also work planned for a new biomedical engineering building, design and construction TBD, but with a price tag of about $55 million (for comparison, Gates cost $60 million).


In the proposed $63 million renovation, Upson retains its current footprint, A new entry is established at the intersection with Duffield, and small bump-outs are built over the other two entryways. Better entries and landscaping are strongly emphasized in the proposal.

upson_2 upson_3


The design is standard 2010s fare – whereas the current Upson is a box with bands of windows (“International Style”) much celebrated in the days of I Love Lucy and early seasons of Mad Men, the current is the metal-and-glass of all sorts of sizes and shapes. I expect it to age about as well (i.e. poorly). Coincidentally, the design of the building is by internationally-acclaimed firm Perkins + Will, who also designed the original Upson in the early 1950s.

I feel the real draw here is the landscaping. The initial landscaping isn’t all that special, put the Phase III landscaping is a treat. Cornell is way too trendy when it comes to new buildings, but if it’s one thing the university excels at, it’s landscape architecture.

upson_land_1 upson_land_2



6 responses

1 11 2014

When I use to walk to sporting events on campus as a kid, I’d pass by the Engineering Quad and think how several of the buildings reminded me of the ones I’d put together with my Kenner “Panel & Girder” construction sets. As homely as they look, I will miss them when they’re gone.

3 11 2014
Cornell PhD

Finally. This is an eyesore unworthy of its prominent location. Kind of agree about the likelihood of not aging well, though.

6 11 2014

Some other possibly interesting info, I think the top two floors of Upson (where CS was located before Gates) was added at a later date. I actually got Ask Uncle Ezra to answer a question about that at some point before it was discontinued.

Any word who is taking over the vacated space?

As someone who once had an office in the somewhat recently renovated computer-engineering part of Upson (on the 3rd floor) it will be interesting seeing how things turn out. Just replacing the windows will be a great start, the heating system couldn’t keep up with the temperatures once it got below 20F or so out.

7 11 2014
B. C.

I haven’t seen anything about space utilization for Upson just yet, although Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering will be a primary occupant. The sketch plan is essentially going up to the board and being like “hey guys, here’s our plan and design, what do you think”. Nothing formally presented yet, but typically Cornell turns over a prodigious amount of paperwork once they enter design and project review. We’ll know who’s going where well before shovels hit the ground.

Interesting tidbit about the top couple floors of Upson. The glass cutout always did look out of place on the northeast side. I suppose it was a case similar to Space Science, where they added two more floors 20 years after the building was initially built.

18 06 2015
Seven Years Later | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] towards completion, and the “Sesquicentennial Grove” was planted. Cornell announced plans to renovate Upson Hall and Rand […]

2 10 2016
Upson Hall Construction Update, 9/2016 | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Work on the upper levels is progressing. Slowly but steadily, mineral wool is being laid and aluminum clips are being installed for the terra cotta panels. It looks like the most progress has been made on the east facade. The windows in the bump-outs have received aluminum trim. Although the project update page hasn’t had a fresh post since early August, the upper floors (3-5) should be occupied by this point and many of the utilities systems have been overhauled. Most of the interior work is now focused on the lower levels (Basement, and Floors 1 and 2). The Pike Company of Rochester will continue the interior renovations during the academic year, but as long as all goes to plan, the building should be wrapped up by August (landscaping is another matter). […]

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