March 27, 2008

An Office to Some, A Maze to Many

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“You know those M.C. Escher drawings? That’s a lot like Day Hall,” Rachel Jacobs ’10 said, referring to the maze of hallways involved in locating various administrative offices in the building. “I get lost every time.”
Edmund Ezra Day Hall, the central administration building for the University, is one of several buildings on campus that many people consistently have trouble navigating. Designed by architect Frederick L. Ackerman in the style of stripped classicism, Day Hall opened in 1947 to consolidate offices scattered around campus into one central structure.
[img_assist|nid=29156|title=Hard to navigate|desc=Edmund Ezra Day Hall houses Cornell’s administration.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The building was designed to be compact to preserve the creek and surrounding area and allow for natural light in almost every space. However, composed of five structures of varying heights surrounding a central square court, Day Hall causes many to have trouble getting around it.
“The building is confusing,” said Emma Bernstein ’08, “and they could use better signage.”
Other old buildings, such as North Campus’ Low Rise 6 and 7, were constructed in 1975 with the hope of creating small communities within the residence halls. At the time they were thought to be a novel approach for housing.
Today, however, these dorms’ structures are considered inferior to new residence halls such as the Hans Bethe House, which opened in January 2007.
The Comprehensive Master Plan, passed March 6, is a long-range plan in place to guide the development of the Ithaca campus over the next 25 years. According to University Planner Mina Amundsen, the plan addresses large objectives and does not specifically focus on individual buildings; instead, it deals with how Cornell uses campus land and lists broad guidelines for future development.
“The Master Plan does not say you have to design a building in X, Y and Z style” but describes how a building should relate to the surrounding area, said Amundsen, who is also co-chair of the CMP Working Committee and director of the Campus Planning Office. It guides future development such that building designs must fit with the plan’s overall objectives.
These objectives include supporting the academic mission, promoting stewardship, enhancing the campus experience, ensuring integrative planning and design and reinforcing community.
University Architect Gilbert Delgado explained that future plans are “sympathetic to the objectives of the Master Plan in overall context,” including factors such as the surrounding nature, proximity to other buildings, etc.
It is a Cornell tradition to construct buildings in accordance with the style of the time, explained Amundsen, but inevitably, some older buildings must be improved. If a building has a strong structure, she said, then it is suitable for “adaptive re-use” or rehabilitation.
One such building is the historical Big Red Barn, one of the oldest structures on campus. The Big Red Barn was built in the 1870s and originally served as the carriage house for the home of the University president, now the Andrew Dickson White House. Since this building is “a part of our history” it is a good subject for adaptive re-use, Amundsen explained.
John Kiefer, director of Planning Design and Construction, noted that the goal of the Big Red Barn renovation is to “beef up the structural system so it would last for a long time.”
The project was not programmatically driven, but rather undertaken to preserve the facility.
A building such as Day Hall, on the other hand, may require more extensive rehabilitation. One of the principal objectives of the Master Plan is to stress a sense of community. Amundsen mentioned the possibility of converting the first two floors of Day Hall to a place more adaptable for student functions.
However, Kiefer said at the end of the day, the University “ends up with questions of money. [Day Hall] doesn’t rise to top of how the University chooses to spend its funds.” The new Life Sciences Technology building is “better to invest in than fixing problems of Day Hall,” he said.
The Master Plan also seeks to make Cornell a more sustainable campus.
“A large objective of the plan is to make a smaller environmental footprint [and] … respect the green space we have,” Amundsen said.
John Kiefer said that since “we’ve gotten to the saturation point on [central] campus,” new buildings will be placed on the eastern part of campus so as not to “risk changing the nature of Cornell University” and maintain the “nice open spaces.”
The University wants to “maintain a scale of openness,” said Delgado.
Cornell aims to have “buildings that delight the imagination and reflect Cornell’s international stature as a research institution in its architecture,” Delgado said.
Currently, there are no immediate plans for Day Hall.