October 6, 2015

Cornell University Sustainable Design Embarks on Housing Project

Print More


A small city situated over 90 miles northeast of Ithaca, Little Falls is the epicenter of a new sustainable housing project taken on by Cornell University Sustainable Design this semester. With a site of over 100 acres, the Overlook Ridge Development Project seeks to construct a campus to host sustainable rental homes and private estates.


Courtesy of Cornell University Sustainable Design

Led by Zachary Cesaro ’16 and Project Chairman David Casullo — president of Bates Communications — the project groups 18 students from across the University and aims to begin construction in Little Falls early next year. Adding to the 17 existing buildings on the Overlook Ridge campus, the team plans to implement a solar array field to power the community in an environmentally friendly way, revitalizing the community and prompting development in the region.

“The plan for the site is … to be a leader in sustainable development,” Cesaro said. “[Casullo] is planning on re-envisioning this huge plot of land to a planned sustainable community.” That would ultimately include private estates, some rental townhouse-type apartments, and the main attraction being a Leadership Development Institute.”

The housing development project is deeply rooted in the theme of sustainability. Casullo’s goals tie in with his passion and ambitions for sustainable housing and net-zero energy use, implemented through cutting-edge technology, according to Cesaro. For this reason, the project became a collaboration with CUSD, broken up into design, energy and public relations sectors.


Courtesy of Cornell University Sustainable Design

The PR team focuses on social impact, marketing and communications, upholding the pillars underlying the principles of CUSD — ecological, economic and social sustainability, Cesaro said. Consisting of students across a number of majors, the PR team is focused on “ensuring that the community is engaged, both the local community and the broader society.” Currently, the team is working to develop online presence and public engagement, planning events and conducting market research to connect the Little Falls community with the project.

On the other hand, the Design team is tasked with developing and designing four rental properties, drawing together sustainability, economic feasibility and state-of-the-art technology. Within this team are students of various majors, especially architecture and civil engineering. Last weekend, the Design team visited the Little Falls site to consolidate a master plan for the construction of the various buildings and homes. The team met with Casullo, Project President Neil Rosenbaum and construction company Lewis Custom Homes, LLC.

The Energy team is focused on developing and implementing the solar array field in the community to attain their target of net-zero energy use, exploring energy solutions to promote sustainability, including solar and geothermal energy, according to team leader Dale Shearin ’18.

“The Energy team is hoping to demonstrate the many ways in which sustainability can be incorporated into a unique building design,” Shearin said. “We are looking into alternative technologies such as a trombe wall, green roof, rainwater collection and community compost with the purpose of promoting sustainable energy usage and demonstrating how impactful a few small changes can be.”


Courtesy of Cornell University Sustainable Design

According to Cesaro, who leads the project after two and a half years with CUSD, the two most pressing challenges are using time effectively — the target date of early 2016 creates a very tight timeline — and the need for expertise in industry and professional contexts.

“Our students really have to initiate a lot of the learning on their own,” said Cesaro. “A month ago, I didn’t know a lot about architecture. [The architecture students] have been able to catch me up to speed, and I’ve learned so much already.”

Moreover, the university schedule and environment within which CUSD operates means that experience can easily be lost with past CUSD members graduating. Keeping this knowledge, therefore, is of utmost importance to the project team. For example, the team currently draws on experiences from their 2013 Farm Pond Circle project, as that project shared similarities in terms of housing styles, Cesaro said.

“We do have a couple of members of that team working on this project who can bring that knowledge to this project,” Cesaro said.

On the whole, as Cesaro describes, CUSD projects involve taking into account past experiences and integrating them with cutting-edge technology, for applications towards new situations. According to Cesaro, this means “transcending the activism message” behind sustainability and getting to build real-world projects.

“Being students we have a lot of schoolwork, and a lot of the time that’s theoretical and problem sets,” he said. “This is an opportunity for students to have experiential learning – to actually go out in the world and do something.”

Correction: In a previous version of this story, the headline incorrectly referred to the student organization behind the Overlook Ridge project as Cornell University Sustainable Development. In fact, the organization is called Cornell University Sustainable Design.