October 25, 2011

Cornell Dedicates Human Ecology Building

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Cornell dedicated the Human Ecology Building — the College of Human Ecology’s new 89,000-square-foot hub for interdisciplinary collaboration and design — at a ceremony last week.

Human Ecology professors and students have been attending classes in the space since August and praised it for its sustainable design and for being conducive to collaboration. The new building behind Martha Van Rensselaer houses high-tech laboratories, classrooms, studios for drawing, design and fabrication and a gallery.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine that the college could even operate without those kinds of spaces available for the past nine years,” said Prof. Paul Eshelman, design and environmental analysis.

According to members of CHE, the building provides centralized space the college had lacked since 2001, when the MVR North building, which was located near where the HEB now stands, was declared structurally unsafe and condemned to demolition.

Eshelman explained that the lack of official CHE buildings meant that some classes in the college’s majors were displaced across Cornell’s campus. He said there were logistical difficulties in relocating his workshop after MVR North was condemned.

“It was very disruptive … there was a lot of shuffling and displacement. For nine years, we’ve been schlepping off campus,” he said. “Kay Obendorf, the associate dean [of research and graduate education], went on a hunt around campus to find an alternative for us. … It was a very challenging time, but I think the college handled it beautifully.”

Eshelman said that the construction of the building, which centralizes CHE classes into one area, allows for increased interdisciplinary study and “integrated learning.”

“One of my colleagues teaches an environmental psychology course, and he has his students acting as behavioral consultants to the design students that I’m working with,” he said. “These spaces are really wonderful in allowing that type of learning.”

Eshelman said that the building accommodates dates apparel and interior design studios, as well as labs for fabric design research working with biomedical materials and implants.

Students said the new facilities provide access to specialized equipment required for their work. Exchange student Phillip Youakmi, a junior from the University of New South Wales, Australia, said the HEB is the only place in which he had access to advanced machinery like automatic cutters and three-dimensional printers.

Youakmi said he believed the diversity of study in the new building can help educate students about what the CHE college encompasses.

“It’s actually a lot of different things. We have business majors here, we have pre-med, fashion, design, ergonomics, all those things,” he said.

Arielle Levy ’13, a design and environmental analysis major, said it was difficult for her to get to class before the HEB was opened because her classes were dispersed throughout campus.

“We used to be over by Mitchell St., by the [College of Engineering’s] High Volt lab, and that was crazy far. We’d always have to organize rides to get there,” Levy said. “Now with this building, it’s just a matter of walking.”

The HEB was designed to meet gold LEED standards. Environmentally friendly features include on-site gardens, a ventilation system that constantly adjusts to carbon dioxide levels and extensive use of natural lighting.

According to the College of Human Ecology’s website, 91 percent of timber used for the building’s construction was harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council, more than 1,050 tons of waste was recycled as construction material and 60 percent of the building’s furniture came from existing college inventory.

Original Author: Byron Kittle