October 25, 2001

Alumni Raise Concerns Over Milstein

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By spring 2003, the outdated Rand Hall will be demolished to make room for the construction of a controversial new architecture building, Milstein Hall.

Many alumni claim that the new building’s design does not correlate with the other buildings on the Arts Quad. They would like the University to put a “hold” on the construction schedule to review both the design and the competition process used to choose the design. They are also upset that they were largely excluded from the competition.

However, University officials are satisfied with both the competition and the design for Milstein Hall.

“I think this is great for the Cornell campus and the University,” Peter Karp, university architect, said. “It was a fair and inclusive process.”

Milstein Hall, which is expected to open for student use in 2005, will house administrative offices for the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning. An auditorium, a cafe and student studios are included in the design as well.

The building will cost $25 million and will be paid by donors to the University. The building is named after one of its benefactors, the Milstein family.

“It’s not a conceptual building,” Peter Szilagyi ’72, chair of the Cornell Alumni Committee for an Intelligent Solution to a New Architecture School Building (CACISNASB) said about the design. “They talk about all the views from the building. An architecture school shouldn’t be about views — it should be about space.”

Some alumni from College of Art, Architecture, and Planning said they believe that the building design for Milstein Hall is aesthetically distasteful. They also said that the structure will clash with the surrounding buildings on the Arts Quad.

Karp, however, said he believes that the design is a good match for the University.

“I think that the building is a remarkable response. It’s very conceptual — the building is going to be a gateway to campus,” Karp said. Concerning the criticism, Karp added, “That’s their opinion [about Milstein Hall] and I think [the Milstein Hall building design] is a great solution to the Arts Quad. It comes down to qualitative reasoning in the end.”

The core of the opposition towards the Milstein Hall design developed at a reception held by the Colorado Cornell Alumni Association on May 18. The American Institute of Architects held its annual convention in Denver and the alumni association hosted a reception to talk with other Cornell alumni at the conference. The Dean of the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning, Porus Olpadwala, also attended and told alumni about the plans for Milstein Hall.

“We looked at this [design] and realized that it was wrong,” Szilagyi said. “[Alumni] decided to write letters to President Rawlings, the trustees, and the deans. This formed the nucleus of [the opposition].”

Particularly upsetting to the alumni about the competition process was that it was closed — only select architecture firms were invited to participate.

“We felt that [the competition] was the most appropriate way to go. The administration and the college formed a committee and decided people who were worthy of invitation. Being a Cornell person wasn’t a criteria. We wanted to make sure we had the most world renowned architects,” Karp said.

With the help of a competition consultant at the University of New

Mexico, a competition process was formulated. Approximately 20 architecture firms were invited to participate and about 15 of them replied. Seven of the firms were selected for interviews, and the jury picked 4 finalists, which were each paid $40,000 for their work.

Out of four finalists, the building designed by Steven Holl Architects won.

This architecture firm is based in New York City. In 1999, their submission for the design of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki was selected out of 516 other entries. They declined to contribute to this article.

Szilagyi commented on the impression many alumni have towards the competition.

“One of the big issues is that the Cornell architecture school makes a big

deal about being the best architecture school in the country for the second

year in a row. How can the architecture school that’s the best in the country not include students, faculty, or alumni? It’s an oxymoron.”

Szilagyi added comments about the competency of Cornell alumni architects.

“The fact that you live and work on campus for five years give you the

chance to understand special relationships on campus. These outside people have no idea of the relationships and made a poor design,” he said.

One of the main points of concern for the architecture alumni is how Milstein Hall will effect the architecture students that will be working in the new building.

“Young architecture students are like sponges. They want to absorb as

much information as they can. They see with their eyes everything. If you push something in front of them and say it’s viable, then they will absorb it,”

Szilagyi said.

University officials believe that the building will have a positive influence on the students and the University.

“First of all, [the students] will be working in a building designed by the world’s best architect of the moment,” Karp said. “The students will have new studio spaces–it’s an exceptional space to learn. It makes such a strong impact. I think that it will attract students to Cornell.”

Several students have mixed opinions on the Milstein Hall design as well. They see both positive and negative factors involving the building.

“I went to the competition and I heard him with his presentation,” Renee

Millet ’05 said. “I was most impressed with his presentation, and I think

that swayed the judges.” Millet also commented on the different features of

the building.

“In terms of space, the first year studios don’t seem to fix the problem.

The major problem is space since it’s the major spot for first-year students. It’s not aesthetically appealing, but after it’s constructed, maybe it will be with those final touches. When someone gets so wrapped up in the design, they forget the practicality of the building,” she added.

Some of the positive aspects Millet discussed were the cafe that students

could lounge in and the gallery which could be a good starting point “to show [visitors] the architecture school.”

Another student noticed the impact that the new building could have for the

architecture school.

“It’s supposed to have an auditorium, and other people [outside of the

architecture school] will be using that as well,” Elizabeth Hinkson ’05 said. “Other students will be exposed since [now] architecture students are

the only ones that go into Rand [Hall], except the students’ friends who know the code [to get into Rand Hall].”

Archived article by Kelly Samuels