March 14, 2005

C.U. Breaks Virtual Ground

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Trustees, administrators and faculty broke “virtual ground” for the New Life Sciences Technology Building with a video history of the University’s life sciences program and a special surprise presentation Friday.

The University has said that the building is the most ambitious scientific facility yet planned for campus.

“We are breaking ground for what is truly a groundbreaking building,” said Peter C. Meinig ’62, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Cornell doesn’t build a $140 million building every day. I think I join many in saying, ‘thank goodness we don’t.'”

Richard Meier ’56, the building’s architect, spoke to the gathered audience of trustees, faculty and administrators about his time at Cornell and his vision for the new building.

“Having enjoyed this campus during my architectural studies, during my five years here, I always hoped and dreamed that I would be able to give back to the University, just a little,” Meier said. “I’m very happy and very fortunate to have been able to realize this dream.”

He talked about the challenges of integrating the bold new building with the rest of campus and with the University itself.

“Our goal was to design a building that would meet not only all the programmatic requirements, but would also heighten the user’s and the visitor’s awareness of everything around it,” he said.

To this end, he told the audience that the building would be distinguished by whiteness, materiality and transparency. The building will also be connected to other structures through a series of underground tunnels, many of which are already in place. It will feature a cafeteria and a large atrium that “brings light into every level of the building.”

“Light will be a key material” of the building, Meier said. “[Meier] exemplifies what the poet Wallace Stevens called an ‘inquisitor of structures,'” Meinig said. “He is one of the greatest and most creative architects in the world.”

Provost Biddy Martin spoke about the influence that faculty had on the creation of the building and the $500 million Life Sciences Initiative behind it.

“This building is the dream of our faculty, of a grassroots effort on the part of a faculty in the life sciences,” she said. “Today approximately one-third of all faculty at Ithaca are involved in the study of living organisms,” she added, also saying that all the faculty at Weill Medical College are involved in the study of health and living organisms.

She said that this created an amazing opportunity for cross-disciplinary and cross-campus collaboration.

Kraig A. Adler, the vice provost for life sciences, spoke about the origins of the initiative, saying that it truly begun with eight professors in five colleges in the mid-1990s and eventually grew to be a project involving hundreds of students and faculty across Cornell’s campuses.

“We want to pay special tribute here today to these faculty whose vision and advice will long be remembered in the annals of Cornell,” Adler said.

Sanford I. Weill ’55, trustee emeritus and a member of the board of overseers of Weill Cornell Medical College, said that connectivity between disciplines is becoming a reality “today, even before we put the virtual shovel in the virtual ground for the new building.”

He talked about a conference last semester which brought together faculty from different disciplines to discuss “hot topics” in the life sciences.

He said the first proposals from that conference were starting be funded already.

President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 said that the project was “as large in scale and as bold in design as the teaching that will go on in it.” He told the audience that “Cornell’s pioneering work in nanobiotechnology, begun … 25 years ago, has expanded to such a degree that we needed a sophisticated new facility in order to preserve and extend our leadership.”

At the end of the video presentation, which featured Cornell students digging on Alumni Field, the building’s planned location, the Cornell students pictured in the video rushed in wearing official Cornell sweatshirts and carrying buckets of ceremonial dirt which they presented to the speakers.

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun News Editor