April 24, 2001

Holl to Design Milstein

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After an intense competition which began nine months ago, Cornell has entrusted architect Stephen Holl with designing Milstein Hall, which will house the building facilities for the department of architecture in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

Last Wednesday in Bailey Hall, four finalists presented their designs to a six-member jury. Hundreds of students and faculty watched the presentations, although they were prohibited from interacting with either the panel of jurors or the contestants.

“The President [Hunter R. Rawlings III] and some of the senior administration were in there for part of the time,” said Peter Karp, University architect.

The jury, composed of six internationally renowned architects, deliberated throughout the day. They discussed the proposals in between the presentations, even eating meals together so that they would not be influenced by outside opinions.

After three hours of deliberation between Thursday and Friday, the jury came to a unified decision. Holl was chosen as the architect for the new Milstein Hall.

Last year, Irma Milstein and her family granted the College $10 million to construct a new architecture facility on the site of Rand Hall. The gift honors Irma Milstein’s husband, Paul, a leading New York City developer of residential and commercial real estate properties.

“For a jury to be unanimous like this is incredibly unusual,” Karp said.

The jury was a body independent from Cornell. Karp explained that it is common for competitions of this caliber to select jury members who have no personal stake in the outcome of the competition.

“None of the jury were Cornellians. It was a totally professional process. We wanted an objective point of view,” Karp said. “The jury have nothing at stake but good architecture,” he added.

Karp called Holl in his New York office at 5 p.m. on Friday evening to inform him of the jury’s decision. The choice to use Holl’s design was also approved by Rawlings. The news was not released to the public until Monday, after Karp had the opportunity to notify the three other finalists.

Upon hearing the news, Holl’s 20-person firm, Stephen Holl Architects, ended work early to celebrate.

“We had a little party. At 6 p.m. we stopped work and some people stopped by,” said Steven O’Dell, an employee at the firm. “It’s an honorable project for us to have. It’s quite an honor. This was a very prestigious competition.”

Holl had only eleven weeks to design the new building. The presentation shown on Thursday was only a preliminary plan of the actual building that will be erected. Plans to break ground are aimed at late next fall, “if everything clicks along,” Karp said.

Holl called the building site “sacred.” Both Karp and O’Dell stressed that this is only the first stage in a long process.

“We’ve got another full year of design,” Karp said.

Holl visited campus on several occasions while designing the plans for Milstein Hall.

“It’s [the design] something I came to very early, on my first site visit in fact. I then explored other things and came back to it,” Holl explained. Holl even closed his presentation to the jury by expressing how he felt about his designs.

“I feel very strongly about this. I feel very clear about it, and if we were to win we would go very deeply into the details,” Holl said. “This design is correct for the site and this is definitely the best design for a school of architecture I’ve ever done,” he added.

Based in New York, Holl established the firm in 1976. In 1999, he won a competition to design the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. His design was chosen from 516 other entries.

Currently Holl’s firm is designing an MIT student dorm and a museum in Kansas City.

Archived article by Christen Eddy