August 25, 2010

University Selects Thom Mayne as Gates Hall Architect

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Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne will be designing a new computing and information sciences building in the heart of Central Campus. Set for completion in 2014, the $60 million William H. Gates Hall will be financed with no additional debt to the University, according to Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of Computing and Information Sciences. The building will be funded with a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the University received in 2006, in addition to other fundraising.

The 100,000-square-foot building will feature specialized research and teaching labs for cyber security, human-computer interaction, computational sustainability, robotics, computer vision and other research areas, Huttenlocher said. The building will also feature special collaborative laboratory spaces where teams from multiple departments can work together to solve probems. A large, open stairway and natural lighting will also contribute to impromptu collaboration, according to the University.

Gates Hall will sit across Campus Road from Barton Hall in the Hoy north parking lot.

Long influential in academia, Mayne helped found the Southern California Institute of Architecture in 1972 and has held teaching positions at Columbia, Yale, Harvard and many other institutions.

Mayne’s architectural firm, Morphosis, was selected from a pool of five prominent New York architectural firms to design Gates Hall, according to University Architect Gilbert Delgado.

For years, Mayne was a “paper architect” whose ideas remained pieces of academic study. Many of his designs — including an art center for Emory University, a golf clubhouse in Japan and MTV studios — were displayed in prominent progressive architecture magazines but never built.

But Mayne eventually decided to move to physical construction.

“Architecture can’t just be on paper. You have to build. That’s what makes us architects,” Mayne told Metropolis Magazine in March 2003 of his sudden transformation in the late 90s.

In 1999, Mayne completed Diamond Ranch High School, a public school in Pomona, Calif. He credited it as the “first work that I could believe in …. where the aesthetic act and the social act were singular.” According to Delgado, it is this “multiplicity of systems” that makes Mayne’s architecture so forceful and one of the reasons Morphosis was selected.

“Thom draws upon many references in informing his architecture … [that] interact and present a complex reading of form,” Delgado said. “Morphosis has a reputation for questioning and re-inventing established ideas about architecture and the built environment.”

The Diamond Ranch High School’s design was a critique of the established education system and the culture that perpetuated it, Mayne said.

“We live in a culture that’s so unsophisticated, so bottom-line. They’re just getting people to read and do math. It’s tragic,” Mayne told Metropolis in 2003.

Instead, as Mayne explained, the building was meant to inspire a new type of education, one with culture as a forceful incentive.

“Let culture drive education; learn poetry, learn art — and then you’ll be driven to learn the mechanics of doing mathematics and reading,” he said in 2003.

At the heart of Gates Hall will be the same interplay between the social and another element — something more abstract. To Mayne, that abstract element, at least with Diamond Ranch High School, was cultural aesthetics. To Huttenlocher, the abstract element is technology itself.

The new location reflects a shift in the computing and information sciences. The once abstract and isolated field of computer science has become more user-friendly and interdisciplinary, sometimes even relying on expertise in the social sciences, Huttenlocher said.

“Even if you’re looking at designing a piece of software, it’s fundamentally a problem about producing something that’s useful to people,” Huttenlocher said. “From a user perspective, it’s at least as much a social problem as it is a computer science or engineering problem.”

In recent years, computing has become less about the technology itself and more about the “interplay” between people and technology, Huttenlocher said.

“Technology is really affecting society in a major way, and I think it’s very critical that society is also affecting technology,” Huttenlocher said. “I think it’s very critical that we … do support this kind of broad interdisciplinary interaction, that we don’t just have technology pushed on the world. The goal of the building is to make that a much more integrated part of what we’re doing.”

Ung-Joo Scott Lee ’93, the project manager for Gates Hall, declined to comment on the building’s design. He said he was waiting for permission from the Gates Foundation to speak to the media.

The building will be Cornell’s third structure designed by a recipient of the Pritzker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in architecture. Pritzker winners Rem Koolhas and Richard Meier ’56, B. Arch ’57 designed Milstein Hall and Weill Hall respectively.

Original Author: Emily Greenberg