A panel of six international architects judged four finalists, each competing to design Milstein Hall, the building that will eventually house the building facilities for the department of architecture.

Hundreds of students and faculty gathered in Bailey Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. yesterday as competitors presented their proposals for the new building.

Construction has been allotted a $25 million budget and the hall is scheduled to open by Fall 2004. The chosen site, adjacent to Sibley Hall, will provide classrooms, studios, a large auditorium, office and administrative space for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

A panel of international constituents chose and invited the four finalists who were chosen from a group of ten accomplished architects to submit designs. After the ten submitted the first set of proposals, the competition was narrowed down to seven architects. The remaining candidates presented to the jury and from those seven, the final four were chosen.

Yesterday marked the architects' final chance to present their plans to the design jury and the first opportunity the community had to hear the proposed plans.

Peter Zumthor, an architect from Switzerland opened the conference, followed by Thom Mayne, Stephen Holl and the pair of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Audience response to the presentations was varied.

After Holl presented, Prof. Jonathan Achshorn '75, architecture was not ready to pass judgment until he had heard from all the speakers.

"I'm reserving my judgment until I see the models and drawings up close. However, the second speaker [Mayne] made some interesting attempts to transform the site at this interesting corner of campus," Achshorn said.

The audience was unable to participate in any sort of discourse with the panel and the competitors. At the close of each presentation, the crowd gathered near the stage in order to view the building models that each architect had displayed with their proposals. The stage and the constituents themselves were off-limits to the audience.

The entire competition has been described by many as very secretive.

"It's been a pretty tight secret for the audience," Achshorn remarked.

A member of the architecture faculty, Achshorn was not approached for input on the project. He remarked that the faculty was invited to a few lectures on the topic.

The unusual process of attending this type of forum was an attempt to turn the search for an architect into a didactic process.

"This is a dialogue between the contestants and the jury. We didn't allow any audience response. However we wanted a lot of student [and] faculty input in the process. This has all been very demanding and time consuming [organizing the conference] but it's proving to be wonderful," said Peter Karp, university architect.

Robert Carroll '05, a first-year architecture student, attended the conference and remarked on the first two presentations of Zumthor and Mayne.

"Thom's [Mayne] wasn't developed. Some of the interior spaces weren't complete. I'm not sure it would fit into what's already existing. Peter [Zumthor] could have done some more site analysis," Carroll said.

He, like many first-years, has taken a particular interest in the project.

"Since we're hoping to be occupying it, a lot of the first years are especially interested in the process. It should be done by the time we're in our fourth year," Carroll said.

Melinda Lee '02 was also concerned with how the new building would fit in with the rest of campus.

"One thing about Cornell is you look around and see all sorts of architecture. I'm interested in whether the designs for the new building will fit in or not with the other architecture. Will it be complimentary to the rest of current buildings?" Lee said, "You look at Uris Hall and its completely out of whack with Ives [Hall]."

Stephen Holl, the third presenter, discussed the issue of incorporating a new building into a pre-existing architectural space.

"This isn't just any school; this is Cornell. This is a sacred space. This building is more than just a site, it's a myth of its existence in architectural education. Somehow a relationship should be established between the campus frame and the distance frame. To look at the end of Cayuga Lake is to look at millions of years of geological time," Carroll said.

The jury members were from the international as well as the Cornell community. The seven individuals come from Barcelona, New York, Vienna and Boston.

The chair of the committee is James Polshek, former dean of faculty of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

During the question and answer period allotted to the jury at the end of each presentation, jury member Toshiko Mori asked Stephen Holl how "his building was didactic."

"Every part of this building has intention behind it, every aspect of it. It is centered around the idea that this building will be like a raw system exposed," Holl responded, "Of course, if we were to win and someone were to add some funds, we could explore some very interesting things."

The jury deliberates for only two days and on Friday both the community and the contestants will receive notice of who has been entrusted with the responsibility for forming the identity to this new addition to the campus.

Archived article by Christen Eddy

December 23, 2015

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