February 17, 2009

Hydraulic Lab Collapses

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The picturesque views of Beebe Lake from the Thurston Avenue Bridge will now feature one eye-catching disruption. Cor­nell’s Hydraulic Lab — a decaying stone building that projected out from Fall Creek Gorge next to the Triphammer Footbridge and across from the Alumni House — is no longer standing.
The abandoned five-story tower, often considered an icon of Cornell’s scenic campus, collapsed at the end of last week, ending any speculation as to how long the structurally precarious building would last.
The remains of the 70-foot tall building lay in the gorge on Saturday morning, according to Giffen Ott ’13, a first year architecture student who noticed on Friday afternoon that the lab had collapsed.
[img_assist|nid=35198|title=Into the gorges|desc=The Hydraulic Lab stands next to the Fall Creek Gorge on Jan. 27.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
[img_assist|nid=35200|title=Into the gorges|desc=The remnants of the Hydraulic Lab as they appeared on Saturday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

The top chunk of the building, which sits at sidewalk level, remained for the most part intact, except for the corner that hangs over the gorge. The foundation also appears to still be in place, but the walls connecting the top and bottom have largely fallen out. The lab, when still standing, has long appeared structurally unsound to passersby.
“I kind of expected it to happen as some point,” Ott said. “I’m not very surprised. It seemed like an unstable building.”
As of last night, Simeon Moss, director of Cornell Press Relations, said he had not heard about the collapse of the building, and could not provide any details of the incident. Cornell University Police and the Ithaca Police Department also both said they were unaware of the incident. The process of how the building’s debris will be cleaned up — if at all — is currently unknown.
The Hydraulic Lab was constructed in October of 1898 alongside the dam that encloses Beebe Lake, according to an archived New York Times article. Originally part of the College of Civil Engineering, the purpose of the building was to study water purification along with the flow of water from the adjacent falls.
It has been debated whether the building was constructed in 12th-century Florentine style, but most agree that the stone used to build it was meant to match the stone of the gorge.
In A History of Cornell, author Morris Bishop writes that the building, “adds to the picturesqueness of the cascades, especially when giant unexpected streams burst forth from unexpected orifices.”
Since the 1960s, the building has been unused, according to an article in Cornell Magazine by Emeritus University Archivist Gould Colman ’51. The New York Times reported that damages from a flood caused the lab to close.