March 6, 2002

Milstein Hall Architect Comes to C.U.

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Steven Holl, the architect the University hired to build the controversial Milstein Hall, lectured to a packed Uris Auditorium last night.

Holl discussed his previous design strategies at other American university campuses as well as his plans for Milstein Hall, the building intended to replace Rand Hall, home of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

The New York based architect was chosen unanimously by a panel of faculty last April to conduct the project.

The design has triggered some controversy within the alumni community. Members of the Cornell Alumni Committee for an Intelligent Solution to a New Architecture School Building believe the design does not fit in well with the rest of the campus.

One alumnus has even started a petition against the design.

“This is the 21st century and this building should aspire to be a didactic tool for the 21st century,” Holl said.

Holl’s design for Milstein has been described as a cube but Holl has a different perspective.

“It’s actually a cube, cubed. That means it’s to a cube what a cube is to a square,” Holl said.

The design is intended to be that of a “green,” energy efficient building.

“The building is insulated by 100 percent recycled aluminum and foam panels,” Holl said. The building will also take advantage of seasonal solar changes to provide a climate controlled environment.

Holl compared the translucent glass to be used to control heat from sunlight to polar bear hair. The material is made of stacks of filaments that give the glass a frosted look.

Holl has been working with the faculty to refine the plans in preparation for construction.

One revision includes moving the auditorium to an underground level. “We agreed with their suggestion and the plans were improved due to faculty input,” Holl added.

Milstein Hall, expected to cover a little over 8,000 square feet, will “give more space back to the campus,” Holl said.

Rand Hall currently takes up about 10,000 square feet. This liberated space is expected to be used for complimentary landscaping which could include a garden according to Holl.

“Milstein is designed to connect the architecture school with the rest of the University. Often times, architects tend to be cloistered away like monks and nobody knows that they are doing,” Holl noted.

However, he denied claims that the building would force pedestrian traffic through it. “Students can choose to walk around it if they’d like,” Holl said.

Additional plans for the building include a library with computerized compressible stacks designed to make the building more space efficient.

The 100,000 volumes of the library will be stocked in motorized shelves that will respond to computer searches for a specific text. That is, when a book is requested, the appropriate shelves will move to allow for its retrieval. “We want the building to be a tool that is contingent on the people who use it,” Holl said.

“The interlinking design makes the building very space efficient. Milstein will have some amazing spaces and incredible views.”

“We have amazing campus spaces across this country and Cornell as a place in the history of architecture is a mythical place,” Holl said.

He added that while the United States may lack the artistic and architectural legacy of Europe, the American campus provides a strong contrast to this principle. To illustrate his view, Holl described his work on a residence hall at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as on a chapel for Seattle University.

Following the demolition of Rand in the summer of 2003, the $25 million construction will begin on site at the north end of the Arts Quad.

Milstein is scheduled to open for use in 2005.

Archived article by Philip Lane