August 8, 2002

Cornell and Milstein Hall Architect Part Ways

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Cornell University and Steven Holl Architects, the architecture firm selected to design Milstein Hall, announced their joint decision to part ways last month.

As the new home of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning’s

Department of Architecture, the $25 million building will replace Rand Hall.

According to Peter Karp, University architect, the architecture department and Holl never came to an agreement on the program, budget and design of the project.

“This was not a termination. Nobody got fired,” Karp said. “There was an impasse. In some aspects, Holl was reluctant to compromise, and in some aspects, the Department of Architecture was reluctant to compromise.”

Citing budget constraints, AAP College officials announced changes to Holl’s original design last April. The changes included reducing the number of floors from seven to six.

“Like a brain surgeon operating on his own brain, making architecture for an architecture school is a peculiarly difficult challenge,” Holl said in a Cornell news release.

“I’ve been involved in the process of five different architecture schools over the past 13 years and believe it is one of the most difficult architectural commissions. The unresolvable dialogue with Cornell is indeed an unfortunate situation. Our hope was to make an idea-driven and fine building for future students.”

The changes to Holl’s design of Milstein Hall came amidst alumni opposition to the design and placement of the building in the Arts Quad.

After seeing Steven Holl’s design for Milstein Hall last year, Peter

Szilagyi ’70 and other architecture alumni formed the Cornell Alumni

Committee for an Intelligent Solution to a New Architecture School

Building. The committee members placed a full-page ad in The Sun and sent letters to President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Porus Olpadwala, dean of the AAP College.

Many alumni were “shocked and outraged” by the location and design of the building, according to Szilagyi.

“The material [for the building’s exterior] was totally incompatible with

the historic nature of the adjacent buildings,” he said. “The building

looked like it was going to fall into the gorge.”

The committee members were also opposed to the process by which Holl’s design was selected, according to Szilagyi.

“The members of the jury [that selected Holl’s design] were not intimately familiar with the Cornell campus,” he said. “I would like to see Cornell alumni be a part of the selection committee.”

According to Karp, alumni dissent did not play a role in the decision to end Cornell’s partnership with Holl.

A panel of independent architectural experts unanimously selected Holl’s design of Milstein Hall in April 2001 following a competition involving four architecture firms.

A new design for Milstein Hall will not be selected in the same manner, according to Karp. Instead, he will chair a selection committee comprised of representatives from the architecture department and University administration.

The committee will interview four to seven firms, two of which participated in the original competition last year, according to Karp.

“It’s taking a little longer than we hoped,” Karp said, adding that the

committee plans to select a new design by the end of August.

Due to last month’s decision, construction of Milstein Hall will be

delayed, according to Karp.

“With a new project and a new architect we’re really starting again,” he said. “But we want to minimize the delay.”

Milstein Hall was scheduled to be complete in late fall 2005 or early 2006.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin