September 12, 2007

C.U. Relocates 4th and 5th-Year Architecture Students

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About two weeks before the semester started, Cornell’s unsuspecting architecture students received an e-mail that outlined a series of changes, which, for many fourth and fifth-year students, would set a new tone to their final semesters in Ithaca.
They were informed that the architecture department had signed a lease on July 15 for a building at 531 Esty St. in downtown Ithaca, approximately two miles from the Cornell campus, which would house the two studios for fourth and fifth-year students.
More students are scheduled to be relocated in the coming semesters; the administration anticipates using the building for three to four years. Although members of the administration such as Interim Department Chair Mark Cruvellier “thought students would like the independence,” students were not all as enthusiastic.
For example, Jennifer Traina-Dorge ’08 feels the building poses logistical problems to architecture students. “The building, although it is nice physically, is not appropriate for architecture students. It is underutilized,” she said.
This decision to move students to Esty Street came about when the administration needed to gut the studios in the basement of Sibley Hall to build an elevator. The building currently lacks an elevator, however; it needs one in order for Cornell’s architecture program to remain accredited, according to Traina-Dorge.
While students understand the reason for their move, the new space has imbued them with a number of problems. “The move is hardest for fourth and fifth-year students because they frequently use the resources in the library,” said Erica Chlad ’08, an architecture student who is completing her thesis.
After sending an impassioned letter to the administration, the thesis students were able to keep their studio space in Sibley Hall.
The building is open from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. rather than the full 24 hours, which is a schedule students were used to keeping while working in Sibley. It has four computers, one scanner and two 11 x 17 printers, which is not appropriate for the oversized prints architecture students must make to display their design projects. While many students would bring their own computers to accommodate the building’s lack of a computer lab, many students do not have access to the expensive programs on their personal laptops that they use to complete their projects.
“It is difficult to get work off of the computer and onto the wall in a timely manner,” said Traina-Dorge, as she described how students must print their work on campus and then transport it down to the Esty Street studio.
Some students find other issues with the Esty St. studio. The move has been bad for student morale, according to Chlad. “The fourth and fifth-year students are isolated from the rest of the architecture community,” which she described as being small and tight-knit.
Currently, architecture students are working with members of the administration to enable the Esty Street studio to meet more of their needs. The students have organized themselves into a group that meets bi-weekly where they draft plans that they then present to the administration outlining what improvements could be made to Esty Street. Cruvellier meets with the students monthly. “We are actively meeting with students to accommodate their needs,” Cruvellier said.
“We are hoping to get art and planning students to work with us. We are trying to set up a mode of communication and structure for a decision-making process,” Chlad said.
Traina-Dorge also hopes that the new student organization will facilitate regular communication between students and the College’s administration. Especially with Dean Moshen Mostafavi’s recent announcement of upcoming departure from Cornell to work at Harvard’s School of Design, students are hoping to keep in close contact with the administration during this time of transition. “It’s worrying for us that there is going to be an interim dean and interim chair,” she said.
The communication efforts have been paying off, and students are looking forward to continued contact with the administration. “Mark has been really helpful. Students are becoming more and more involved. We are making slow and steady progress,” Chlad said.
The students were able to negotiate for more computers to be brought to Esty Street and a shuttle service for transport back to Cornell. However, it only runs between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. At other times, students must make private arrangements to take taxis.
Although the price of a plotter is too high to be used by the 20 some-odd people in studio, when more studios are re-located there, students hope that the administration will purchase one for the building.
In addition to Esty Street, the architecture school is experiencing another substantial change in facilities for students — the impending development of Paul Milstein Hall. The new building, designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, will add 43,000 square feet to the school’s current facilities. It is expected to break ground this spring.
While the administration is optimistic with regards to the timely completion of the projects, some students feel the administrative changes will slow its progress. “There is nothing, from our end, slowing the project down at the moment,” said Cruvellier, noting that Milstein Hall is in the construction documentation phase in which the building’s plans are under review from Ithaca boards such as the Board of Public Works and the Landmarks Preservation Committee.
Cruvellier has “no anticipation of a problem” given the departure of Mostafavi.
Chlad, however, who praises Mostafavi’s leadership in the Milstein Hall initiative, hopes that the building will continue to receive the necessary funding and support in his absence. “As a student body we are concerned that once he leaves, the financial support backing the project that he was so good at securing might leave too, preventing the project from moving forward on the predicted time schedule.”