February 21, 2006

C.U. Lays Groundwork for Milstein Hall

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The Office for Metropolitan Architecture – the firm of award-winning architect Rem Koolhaas – will design the new Architecture, Art and Planning building, AAP Dean Mohsen Mostafavi announced last month. The $34 million project, to be named Milstein Hall and scheduled for groundbreaking next year, has been in the planning stages since 1999.

Mostafavi said the new building will serve not just the architecture department, but the entire AAP college. With this aim in mind, the AAP selection committee “had to consider architecture practices that have exceptional expertise in the innovative use of program, planning and design excellence,” Mostafavi said in an e-mail. “Rem Koolhaas and OMA are one of the world leaders in these areas and one of the firms that we felt had the capacity to do an extraordinary job.”

Joshua Prince-Ramus, an OMA partner in charge of the New York office, explained the selection process. “We were selected through an interview process that was based on our design qualifications and experience working with educational institutions,” he said in an e-mail.

Milstein Hall will be located on central campus, near AAP’s current buildings Sibley, Rand and Tjaden halls and the Foundry. It will provide classroom, studio and office space for each department, a major lecture hall and a boardroom.

OMA is currently developing the building’s master plan and concept design. While the firm cannot disclose the building’s specifics yet, according to Prince-Ramus, it will allow for integration with Rand Hall, which had previously been earmarked for demolition. Over the next four months, architects will meet regularly with groups of faculty, students, staff, the University’s Planning, Design and Construction office and other regulatory agencies.

Milstein Hall is the latest building on the Cornell campus to be designed by an internationally renowned architect, joining I.M. Pei’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Life Sciences Technology Building, scheduled for completion in 2007, designed by Richard Meier ’56.

“It is a fantastic opportunity – both for AAP and Cornell University – to work with a firm of such distinction,” Mostafavi said. “It is important for us at Cornell to have the benefit of world-class buildings by world-class architects. We hope the construction of the building at Milstein Hall will set a new trend.”

Prior to choosing OMA to design Milstein Hall, AAP had previously considered Steven Holl Architects and Barkow Leibinger Architects.

Mostafavi explained the difficulties with finding an architecture firm to design the building. “It’s often hard for a group of architects to easily endorse the project of another architect,” he said. “In the first design, there were some general disagreements in terms of expectation and approach on both sides. In the second proposal, Cornell’s basic parameters changed so dramatically it became necessary to reconsider the entire project.”

The project also stalled as the University president and college deans changed, Mostafavi said.

Mostafavi stressed that AAP has learned from the past.

“The university, college and our donors [the Milstein family, who donated $10 million for the project] have been working together in order to ensure that much is learned from past experience and that we create a building that will be a symbol of pride for both the college and the university,” he said. “I have made this project one of my highest priorities and have worked diligently since my appointment to move this project quickly forward.”

Some AAP students expressed their enthusiasm with the construction of the new building. Kim Lewis ’08, who is studying city planning, said she hopes the creation of Milstein Hall will unify the departments within AAP.

“Considering the specific college the building is being made for, it would be nice if students from the different departments could come together and take an active role in its creation,” she said.

OMA is one of the leading architecture firms in the world, known for its diversity of projects, with offices in New York, Beijing and Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The firm gained renown through entries in major architecture competitions. Most recently, OMA completed Casa de Musica concert hall in Porto, Portugal, the Prada Epicenter in Los Angeles, the Seattle Public Library and the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin.

Koolhaas, the firm’s founder, studied at Cornell from 1972-3. Koolhaas won the Pritzer Prize in Architecture in 2000-architecture’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Other honors include the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal in 2004 and the 2005 Mies van der Rohe Prize.

Milstein Hall will be the second building OMA has created for a university. In 2003, the firm designed the McCormick Tribune Campus Center for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. OMA is also currently designing the new Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology.

Archived article by Olivia Oran