October 22, 2007

C.U. Celebrates Bailey Plaza

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With a short kazoo performance of the Alma Mater by the Landscape Architecture students, the opening ceremony of the Plaza for Bailey Hall began in the rain last Friday.
Members of the Board of Trustees and the University Council joined people from across the University in front of Bailey Hall to celebrate the completion of the new plaza, a $4.5 million project that began in March. The project was sponsored by the Office of Provost, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and constructed by Lechase Construction Inc. Michael Van Valkenburgh is a 1973 graduate of Cornell’s Department of Landscape Architecture.
“There have over the years been many plans suggested for this space,” said Provost Biddy Martin, who spoke at the ceremony. “A lot of them have come from Landscape Architecture students, who are among the people on campus who have urged us to make this area worthy of Bailey Hall … and to bring the campus together cross colleges with a beautiful public space.”
The new plaza replaces a parking lot which was “a deteriorated and singularly unattractive area leading to [Bailey Hall]”, according to a statement from the Plaza for Bailey Steering Committee. The purpose of building a new plaza is to provide an aesthetic public gathering space as well as a forecourt to complement Bailey Hall, renovated in 2006 and one of the centers for academic and cultural life at Cornell.
According to the Office of the Provost website, the area around Bailey Hall was “congested with conflicting vehicular and high pedestrian traffic linking many parts of the campus”. The new plaza serves pedestrian use and will increase the safety of traffic in this area. It also functions as a crossroad between colleges and a “corridor” linking the Cornell Plantations, the Deans Garden, the Belkin Courtyard and the A.D.White Gardens.
The plaza is surfaced with patterned bluestones. Some of the stones were thermally treated to create a smooth and uniform-colored effect, while others keep their natural variety of colors.
“The stone pattern reflects the pedestrian pathways,” said Francille Firebaugh, chair of the Steering Committee.
Benches on the plaza are 30 feet long, and each of them was hewn from a single Oregon Douglas fir. The feature of the plaza is a water fountain that mimics nearby gorges. It is an outcropping of layered rocks, sloping from the ground, with water seeping from it. Each rock was numbered in the quarry, and they were arranged according to a certain map at the construction site.
Van Valkenburgh said, “Our projects, all of them, try to inhabit some kind of place that is between the nature that surrounds us and the civilized world that we all try to create with our intellects and with our hands.”
“The only thing that is not there is the tree,” said Firebaugh.
The trees that will be planted around the plaza, including multi-stemmed maples, evergreens and dogwoods, are waiting for a suitable weather condition for transplanting. According to Michael Van Valkenburgh and his associates, the trees, once they are fully grown, will turn the plaza into an outdoor room and provide people with a sense of enclosure.
The plaza is expected to contribute to a positive image of the University.
“I have a granddaughter … and in about 11 years she’ll be going around [and] looking at colleges. If I happen to be at Cornell with her in 11 years, the space that is empty around the side of the plaza will be filled with 40-foot-tall red maple trees. That will be spectacularly good for recruitment in October,” said Van Valkenburgh.
Along with the opening ceremony, a photo display of the construction of the plaza was held in the Landscape Architecture Gallery in Roberts Hall. Leigh McGonagle ’10, a landscape architecture student, took pictures of the entire process of the construction from her studio balcony overlooking the plaza.
“I have watched the plaza change its form from an overpacked parking lot to an aesthetic wonder,” said McGonagle in her written introduction about the display, featured beside her photos in the Landscape Architecture Gallery.
McGonagle also expressed her affinity for the new plaza.
“I like how the materials are formed together. I also like the reference of the water fountain to the gorges. It’s soothing to hear the water,” she said. “It’s also nice to watch people use the plaza … When Psych 101 class is over, the students pour out of the building and fill the plaza.”
Prof. James Maas, psychology, who teaches Psych 101, stated in an e-mail, “I absolutely love the new plaza. It’s a great place to contemplate before and after lecture, and to meet students in a relaxing and informal setting.”
As for the loss of parking spaces and circulation problems resulting from the new plaza, the Office of the Provost has developed several solutions. Previous owners of parking spaces before Bailey Hall have been mostly reassigned to a temporary parking area beside Plant Sciences Building. An underground garage behind Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and an additional floor to Hoy Garage are expected to be completed in a few years. Additionally, a roadway in front of Malott Hall has been constructed to accommodate delivery trucks and buses.