Exploring Milstein Hall

16 08 2011

So, fortunately for me, I’m not the only person out there who has an interest in Cornell construction projects. By good fortune, I happened to receive a series of emails from a newly minted Cornell graduate, “BB”, who took the time and opportunity to explore the nearly complete Milstein Hall and pass along some photos to this blog. For that I am thankful, as my trips to Ithaca have become fewer and further between. While I am glad for the photos, I’m still going to push the token disclaimers that I do not encourage or condone the exploration of unfinished buildings, due to a safety risk and legal concerns with trespassing. Also, while he is kind enough to share the photos here, they are his property, with all associated rights and privileges. I would encourage those that want to use his photos to contact him directly.

For those who wish they could answer nature’s call while on a spaceship…

They’re not even stalls. They’re more like bathroom pods.

I’m looking at this photo, and immediately, “The Imperial March” pops into my head.

News Tidbits 1/8/09: Miracles Do Happen

8 01 2009

All I can say is, it’s about time.


ITHACA – Cornell’s Milstein Hall project will benefit Cornell and the public while minimizing negative impacts, Ithaca’s Planning Board decided.

The Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to grant preliminary site plan approval to the $54 million project that includes a new, 59,000-square-foot building that will connect Rand and Sibley halls and stretch over University Avenue toward the Foundry.

A new Central Avenue Parking Garage will also provide 199 parking spaces on three levels, two of them underground.

The project has been delayed for at least five years with various designs and, most recently, a dispute between the university and the city’s Board of Public Works over the proposal to place part of the building over University Avenue.

After months of disagreement, the university decided to use a cantilever design rather than columns, which would have required an easement from the city. Separately, Cornell and the city later agreed that Cornell would pay to rebuild and maintain the badly deteriorated University Avenue in exchange for the city’s decision to give up its public right of way on the road.

The planning board has been reviewing an environmental impact statement on Milstein for the past two months and has heard comments from Ithacans and Art, Architecture and Planning faculty and students for and against the project.

Cornell and those in favor of the project have argued that the additional space is needed to maintain the Art, Architecture and Planning College’s accreditation and to programmatically connect the three buildings.

Planning Board Chairman John Schroeder said the existing conditions leave the Foundry disconnected and looking “like a maintenance building.” Milstein Hall would move the center of activity more toward the middle, better linking the buildings, he said.

Those against the project have argued that the very modern design of Milstein Hall will be jarring next to the historic Rand and Sibley halls.

Ithaca’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will review historic preservation concerns related to the project at their meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14 in City Hall, 108 E. Green St. The commission would have to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness for Milstein Hall to be built, Acting Planning Director JoAnn Cornish said by e-mail.

Cornell also needs final site plan approval from the Planning Board, which could come at its Jan. 27 meeting, Cornish said.

John Gutenberger, director of community relations at Cornell, said if the final approvals are granted, construction could start by early spring. Milstein Hall is not subject to the university’s construction pause, he said.

The project would be complete by December 2010, project manager Andrew Magre said.


In other news, the massive (by Ithaca standards) development called “Carrowmoor” continues to clear the political hurdles. From the town of Ithaca’s 1/6/09 minutes:

Consideration of designation of the Town of Ithaca Planning Board to act as Lead Agency, and the determination of a Positive Declaration of Environmental Significance for the proposed Carrowmoor development project located off Mecklenburg Road (NYS Route 79), north of Rachel Carson Way, Town of Ithaca Tax Parcel No. 27-1-14.2, Agricultural and Medium Density Residential Zones.  The proposal includes the development of 400 +/- residential condominium units, a community center complex, up to 36,000 square feet of neighborhood oriented commercial uses, up to 32 living units in an elderly residential building, a child care center, and other mixed-use development on 158 +/- acres.  The project will also include multiple new roads and walkways, open recreation areas, stormwater facilities, and community gardens.  Town of Ithaca actions also include consideration of adoption of a proposed local law to enact a Planned Development Zone in conjunction with the Carrowmoor proposal.  The Planning Board may also begin discussions of the draft scoping document for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  John Rancich, Owner/ Applicant; Steven Bauman, Agent; Mary Russell, Attorney.”

Still some hurdles left though. The Planning Board must approve both the environmental review and site plan review before Carrowmoor could be built. The Town Board also has to pass a local law changing the zoning to allow for the project’s development.


No entries for the next week, as I’ll be mostly internet-less at a conference. For those of you planning to attend Rush Week, good luck and have fun.

Milstein Hall: Just Build the Damn Thing

16 07 2008

So, continuing with my ongoing fascination with proposed facilities for the university, it would be impossible to forget Milstein Hall. Wait…yes it would. The building has been through so many redesigns and so many hold-ups that if it takes any longer, I won’t be here to enjoy the finished product. And that makes me sad.

But anyways a brief review. Milstein Hall is the proposed addition to the neverending red tape architecture school, curently in its third rendition, a $40 million, 43,000 sq. ft box [1].

In Koolhaas’s own words, “It is a box that is contaminated by its neighbors and will contaminate its neighbors.” Um, I’m not exactly sure that’s the best way to put it. I’m no architecture student, but I get this vague uneasiness of another Uris Hall situation.

But this is the third rendition. And the other two weren’t exactly pretty either. The saga starts in 2000, when Paul Milstein, a prominent NYC developer, donated $10 million towards the construction of a new facility in February 2000 [6]. Milstein himself did not attend Cornell, but two of his kids did (a third sorta did, she transferred to Yale).

The first design was chosen in a four-way competition that concluded in April 2001. The winner was Steven Holl, for his proposal to build a seven-story cube on the location of Rand Hall, which would have been demolished. The project was set at $25 million, and to be completed in late 2004 [2] (fun tidbit: chair of the selection jury was James Polshek of Polshek Architects, the same firm responsbile for the design of Gates Hall).

Well, the demolition of Rand Hall didn’t sit too well with people, and a lot of people had some critiques for the design (more renderings at http://www.stevenholl.com/project-detail.php?type=educational&id=73). It was a box with cutouts on the west side. Once again, I’m not an architect, but it looks to me like taking a pair of scissors to a paper cube and calling it a design. This is cutting edge…?

So, the university dropped their deal with Holl in July 2002, and by November had selected Barkow Leibinger Architects as the firm to design the building. With a pegged completion date of fall 2006 [3]. Once again, the design was rather…interesting.

For a larger photo, go to www.barkowleibinger.com, and go under competitions, 2003. There you can see that this cutting-edge building also planned to tear down Rand Hall. And once again, there were issues with the design. I can’t say I’m personally too fond of it either, though I like it more than Holl’s design. It says this was to be 6000 sqm, or about 65,000 sq. ft.

Well, that didn’t pan out either, so by September 2006, Rem Koolhaas, the designer of the much celebrated (and 15x more expensive) CCTV tower in Beijing, was announced as the lead architect of the Milstein Hall Project. The square footage had shrunk by a third, and the price tag was up 75%, but there was hope that the damn thing might be built by 2010 [4]. Well, until the City of Ithaca and Cornell decided to have a fight over who controls University Avenue [5].

Long story short (unless you like hearing about SEQR determinations and environmental reviews), the fact that Milstein is designed to stand on both sides of University Avenue 15 feet above the ground kinda posed some issues. Namely, who owns University Avenue, since the current design doesn’t fly with city guidelines. After much arguing, the city decided to sell Cornell the portion of University from Chi Psi up to the intersection with Thurston for the price of $2 million, provided that much needed repairs were completed. Also, Milstein would be cantilevered over the street, to avoid building on both sides. Hopefully, now all the obstacles have been cleared.

So here we are, eight years later and nothing done but a lot of hot air being blown around nevertheless. While I would hope that something is done eventually, I can’t say I’m holding out much hope (especially for a design that I like, but I guess I just don’t understand architecture).





[5] http://cornellsun.com/node/27051