September 20, 2006

The Sun Speaks with AAP Dean Mostafavi About Milstein Plans

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Before the plans for Milstein Hall were presented yesterday, The Sun talked to Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of architecture, art and planning, about the project’s goals and logistics.

Sun: What do you envision for the new Milstein Hall?

Mohsen Mostafavi: It’s a building for the whole college, providing new spaces for studios, lectures, seminars; it’s an opportunity to have space that would allow the different departments to work together. A major component of the building will be taken up by the Department of Architecture but there should also be space for collaborating between architecture, art and planning.

Sun: What else would the building accomplish?

Mostafavi: Right now we have different buildings for different departments so the architecture department is in one part of Sibley, planning is in another part, art is in Tjaden, but we don’t have any additional space that would let people work together, so that would be one of the key components of the new building.
The other thing that is really important is that there used to be a lecture hall in Tjaden. That was taken out so we have more exhibition space, but we now have to have some of our bigger lectures in Goldwin Smith and other places.
We will have more exhibition space and computer room facilities. We’re also hoping that this project will have a second phase, which will involve moving the Fine Arts Library from Sibley to Milstein Hall; then we can open up new offices and work spaces, workshops for planning and architecture in Sibley.
The fine arts library as it exists is not very efficient in terms of its structure, because it wasn’t designed for the weight of the books.

Sun: How will the buildings be connected?

Mostafavi: Milstein Hall will be connected to Rand, meaning that students will have a continuous connection on the same floor linking them. Now if they are in the studios they have to go outside to then go to some of the classrooms or other rooms in Sibley. When they have reviews of their projects they have to take them outdoors which isn’t always the best thing to do.
Because the building will link Sibley and Rand, not only will we be able to work in this new studio space, we’ll have a better connection to the workshop and be able to construct larger-scale models or full-scale construction outdoors in a covered space.
Basically, the new Milstein project has the studios on the second floor and the lecture halls and other facilities are on the ground level.
The idea is that the lecture hall is also accessible to the public for other events so if you’re coming from North Campus or another college you also can enter the lecture hall because there will be a new main entrance. Milstein Hall is intended to be a gateway from when you come from North Campus, as well as to exhibition spaces, the lecture space and also hopefully with the Green Dragon.

Sun: How is this design for Milstein Hall different from previous ones?

Mostafavi: Before there was a plan to demolish Rand and build a new building but we felt that it would be a pity to demolish Rand because even though it’s an older building, it’s functionally in quite good shape.
I think it provides good studio spaces, but it needs to be upgraded and brought up to code as we modernize and modify it. Also it’s more ecologically sound to try to improve it, rather than demolish it.

Sun: What’s the time frame for this project?

Mostafavi: Normally each one of the project phases is about three to five months roughly, so after the schematic you do design development and construction documentation. Then you go on to bid so each one of these phases has to also be coordinated with the University’s approval procedures and processes and various committees of the University.
The plan is to start construction towards the end of next year, about a year or so from now and this kind of building will take about one and a half to two years to build so we’re thinking 2009 for the unveiling of the building.

Sun: What else will the building provide in terms of space and collaboration?

Mostafavi: On the one hand it provides really needed accommodations, something that we’ve really been missing for a while, as well as public spaces and lecture halls.
We are also thinking about how it will enable new forms of collaboration and new forms of research in architecture and planning because today it’s really important to have interaction across these different disciplines.
Also since graduate programs in certain areas are expanding, we need to have the right kind of space for that development.
This project is part of the larger pedagogic agenda we have which included the acquisition of space in New York City where our students and department can spend time in the city.
Again, it’s important that you have space to do mock-ups and to do proto-typing. Right now we don’t have any space like that, we have a smallish workshop. For example, we don’t have really enough space for the assembly of prototypes when we were doing the very successful solar decathlon project with the Engineering, Johnson and Ag school and the other students involved with the construction of this ecological house. We built that inside the Engineering College’s high voltage lab and even though Milstein Hall is not going to provide that kind of space, we are hoping to have some covered outdoor space that will enable us to do more prototyping and also for students and departments to be working outdoors when there’s good weather.
Also, students in the Art Department will be able to do larger scale sculpture because the Foundry is across the road from Rand and Sibley, and right now there isn’t the right kind of space to assemble large art pieces and installations and I think that the concept of a covered but outdoor space will enable being able to work on larger pieces.

Sun: Milstein Hall connected to the foundry? How will covered space work?

Mostafavi: Milstein Hall will not be connected to the foundry.
The building’s ground floor is not as big as the second floor, so the first floor footprint is smaller than the second floor footprint. What happens is that you end up with some spaces that are underneath the second story of the building — covered spaces.

Sun: What were some the reasons for choosing Rem Koolhaas and OMA for this project?

Mostafavi: Rem Koolhaas and OMA as a firm are very, very strong, world leaders recognized internationally as fantastic architects, but also people who constantly challenge our conceptions or certain conventions of architecture. It’s also important that we work with architects whose work exemplifies some of the values that we appreciate.
I think that that’s the case with OMA, if you look at some of their recent work, whether it’s the Seattle Public Library or the Dutch Embassy in Berlin or the Oporto in Portugal that they built, they challenged the conventions of the building type that they were working with, so when it comes to the organization of studio spaces and their relationship to the existing buildings that we have, we felt that OMA would be really fantastic in terms of doing a building that was very contemporary in terms of its look and feel and qualities. At the same time we thought that they would have the capacity to work by contract and that they would be respectful of the buildings that we have and in many respects bring out the best qualities in the existing buildings.
You also have to appreciate that within the world of academia and contemporary architecture Rem Koolhaas is not just known for his building but really for his thinking and his ideas and he is somebody whose work is very much appreciated by a lot of students all over the world. I think his presence is obviously something that has been appreciated by a lot of the students and faculty.

Sun: What are some of the challenges you see for this project?

Mostafavi: The challenges are trying to get things done on time, on budget, and at the moment, especially since Hurricane Katrina, the whole construction industry in the United States has gone through upheaval and turmoil and there have been massive increases in construction costs. So for us, as we are designing the building and working the architects, the challenge is always to be very aware of what’s happening to the construction industry in terms of costs. You are designing something, and to develop it might take a few months, but in those few months, if the prices increase substantially, you can’t just keep increasing the cost of construction, so the challenges are linked with how to make sure you can keep your design work within budget knowing that you have no control over the cost.

Sun: Have there been any considerations made about parking?

Mostafavi: We in the college are very, very keen that there should be parking, that we shouldn’t lose any parking and that this kind of new building provides the University with opportunities for providing parking space. The project was at the beginning aligned with a proposal for an underground parking but very early on in the process it became clear that to build an underground parking space would be very expensive.
So we definitely would love to have parking, especially because it makes sense with the lecture hall, if people are coming to a special lecture or performance or whatever, that it would be quite good if they could come and park underground and have access to the public facilities. There has been an idea that we will keep the remainder of the existing over-ground parking because the building doesn’t take up the whole site, so we will only lose a portion of the parking spaces that we have. The most appropriate way to provide additional parking within the proximity of the college is still being considered.

Sun: Has there been any student involvement in the project?

Mostafavi: Representatives of the student body from architecture, art and planning departments have been involved. There are two committees within the college, one executive committee and another college-wide committee dealing with all aspects of the programs and its functions in the various programmatic issues.