October 8, 2003

Architects Offer Milstein Design

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If Frank Barkow, Arthur Gensler ’57 Visiting Critic and architect of Milstein Hall, ever needs a reminder of how cramped for space the College of Architecture, Art and Planning is, he need only glance at his office address: “Trailer #1, Office #1,” situated at the edge of the parking lot behind Sibley Hall. Barkow and Regine Leibinger’s design for the architecture department’s new home is near completion, and, according to Barkow, promises to alleviate the space crunch by more than doubling the space available to the department.

The Barkow Leibinger Architects design is a long, narrow building that starts where Rand Hall currently stands, and slides in behind Sibley Hall. Instead of a simple long rectangular shape, the third floor is staggered to overhang towards Sibley for one third of the building’s length, and towards the adjacent gorge for the remaining length. The slender 48-foot structure will also shield Sibley’s hodge-podge brick backside from passersby on University Ave.

Barkow emphasized that the new building will be a “workhorse behind Sibley,” and will house classrooms, exhibition areas, an auditorium and studios on the upper floors. One of the driving ideas behind the design is to mediate between two landscapes, “on the one side, Sibley, on the other, the gorge,” Barkow said.

Barkow Leibinger Architects have been working on the design since last November, a duration that Barkow characterized as “probably average for a university project.”

Come November, all remaining design issues should be resolved, Barkow said. Recently, Barkow spent an afternoon in Sibley by the building model, fielding student comments and explaining his design: “I was working the crowd, [explaining] the kinds of spaces the students will have,” he said.

Issues still to be resolved include how much parking will be under the building, how the building will connect to Sibley, what materials will make up the building’s exterior cladding and whether the building will be moved slightly west.

According to Barkow, Milstein Hall will have an underground corridor to Sibley, as well as some sort of above ground connection to the Fine Arts Library’s checkout desk, with possibilities ranging from a simple covered bridge to an atrium. “A bridge is a very minimal connection,” Barkow said. “There’s been some discussion about whether [the connection] can be more substantial.”

To compliment Milstein Hall’s core structure of “exposed steel, painted dark,” Barkow said his office is looking to use materials similar to other Arts Quad buildings, including wooden windows and bluestone. The exterior of West Sibley is a local variety of bluestone, known as Llenroc, according to Joni Carroll, project manager, Office of Planning, Design and Construction.

Barkow Leibinger worked with Turner Construction to examine the possibility of building Milstein in two phases. “[A two-phased construction schedule] is expensive — you’ve got to bring out all the trades involved in the building twice,” Barkow said, adding, “[the department’s] instinct is to use the money on space they can use,” instead of a timetable with shorter displacement of architecture students and faculty.

Similarly, skylights may be too expensive to be included the Milstein design, Barkow said.

With a reletively small area upon which to build, one popular student concern may be whether the corridor between Milstein and Sibley will be an inviting, well-lit public space. Barkow pointed out that, as Americans, “we’re very used to broad avenues,” but the building’s height and design should allow for plenty of sunlight.

“You’re not going to get a suntan in December, but I think it’ll be nice,” Barkow quipped.

Barkow Leibinger Architects are known for their various industrial buildings in Germany and Switzerland. Milstein Hall will be their second project in the United States.

“We’ve cut our teeth on industrial architecture,” Barkow noted, “and that experience is what made us attractive — we’re used to doing less hierarchical, [more] flexible workspaces. [But] it’s not just an industrial building that found its way to Cornell.”

Barkow cited the elegant simplicity of the Milstein’s design as an especially important element.

“Not to get too didactic, but I think it’s important for architecture students to understand the space they’re working in, [for] there to be a directness about it and not the feeling that you’re walking around in a K-mart,” Barkow said.

Archived article by Dan Galindo