October 21, 2011

Cornell to Build First New Humanities Building Since Goldwin Smith

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This story was reported by Michael Linhorst, Jeff Stein and Liz Camuti.

Updated: A new building devoted to the humanities will rise on the Arts Quad, President David Skorton announced Friday at a meeting of the Board of Trustees. The building — the first for the humanities since Goldwin Smith Hall opened in 1905 — will face East Avenue and attach to Goldwin Smith.

The building will cost $61 million, and it will be completely paid for by donations, Skorton said. Seventy- five percent of the donations have already been raised, he said, and the remaining 25 percent will be raised by Jan. 1.

One Cornell family, who currently wishes to remain anonymous, has committed $25 million, Skorton said.

“Were it not for this family, I’m certain I would not be standing here today making this momentous announcement,” he said.

Tom Gross ’78 and his family also provided a large gift, Skorton said.

The audience in the Statler Auditorium gasped when plans for the building were unveiled.

President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes described the building as “magnificent.”

“Just spectacular — a dream come true,” he said.

University Architect Gilbert Delgado called the building “an elegant tribute to Goldwin Smith.”

“It fills in the open area between the two arms. What is currently the area that Goldwin Smith embraces will now be enclosed in an atrium that can be used in the winter,” Delgado said. “It will enliven East Avenue and give it a brilliant focal point. It will light up at night.”

The new building marks a visible commitment to the humanities following Skorton’s nationwide campaign in 2009 to bolster interest and investment in the field.

“Across the country, budgets are shrinking, opinion is not focused on the humanities, but I’m an optimist,” Skorton said Friday. Skorton said that, as part of its commitment to the humanities, the University is hiring 18 new professors in the field as part of its faculty hiring initiative.

Citing the new building, several professors in the field praised Skorton for his commitment to the humanities.

“This is a terrific investment in the humanities, and shows Cornell is committed to the humanities going forward,” Prof. Dan Schwarz, English, said.

Prof. Glenn Altschuler, American studies, emphasized that the new building must be contextualized in an “astonishing and thrilling” year for faculty hires.

“This is an extraordinarily important project for Cornell both symbolically and substantively,” Altschuler said. “That the first building to be built after the economic crisis is a humanities building speaks volumes about the institution’s commitment to the centrality of the humanities both at Cornell and in the country at large. I am really proud of Cornell for doing it.”

Several humanities fields at Cornell have seen declines in student interest over the last few years. In 2011, the University conferred 49 percent fewer degrees in history, 37 percent fewer degrees in English and 61 percent fewer degrees in philosophy and religious studies compared to 2006.

Altschuler said that while enrollments have “ebbs and flows,” the humanities will always be important. The new building, Altschuler said, confirmed the University’s long-term commitment to the humanities.

“[The building is] a good choice, it’s an important choice; as long as people exist, the humanities is going to be vital to any worthy enterprise,” he said.

The building will include courtyards, green roofs and the largest auditorium on the Arts Quad, Skorton said. It is estimated to be 66,500 square feet, according to the building’s website.

Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2013, according to the website, and will be complete by the end of 2015.

The University hopes the building will receive platinum LEED certification, the highest level.

The building was designed by Boston-based Koetter, Kim & Associates. Led by Alfred H. Koetter Jr. ’75, the firm also designed the new Physical Sciences Building, situated across East Avenue from the proposed building.

In addition to the new structure, at least a part of the existing Goldwin Smith Hall will also be renovated. The lower level of Goldwin Smith’s rotunda, which currently houses career services and advising, will become a cafe.

Original Author: Sun Staff