Michaela Brew / Sun Senior Photographer

Alfred DiGiacomo discusses his work as an architect at Cornell.

April 28, 2016

93-Year-Old Architect Recalls Designing at Cornell

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Alfred DiGiacomo, a 93 year-old Ithaca resident who served as senior architect and manager for Cornell Architectural and Engineering Services from 1980 to 1993, showcased his work on campus at an event Tuesday.

DiGiacomo designed the Willard Straight Hall Ivy Room, among many other aspects of campus.

DiGiacaomo said his boss’ experience as an undergraduate at Cornell while he was serving as the county architect for Suffolk County in New York influenced him to apply for a job at Cornell.

“I saw a big ad by Cornell for a senior architect in The New York Times,” he explained. “My boss went to Cornell, and at times he’s talking to me about Cornell and the fun he had at Cornell. I’d never heard of Cornell before. So something made me save the ad.”

DiGiacomo recounted how he managed construction projects at locations like the Performing Arts Theater, Schoellkopf Stadium, Space Science Building, townhouses, Law School and Uris Library.

He added that his work restoring Lincoln Hall’s roof earned him a prize from Historic Ithaca.

However, DiGiacomo said he considers his designs the greatest legacy he left at Cornell. The Willard Straight terrace and Ivy Room were two of the architect’s chief projects.

When asked about where he developed his inspiration for the design for the Ivy Room, he said, “That’s a good question.”

“Where do any of these things come from?” he asked. “There were many times when I just sat quietly and visualized how a building goes together.”

Zach Praiss ’16, a Cornell Daily Sun designer, said he met DiGiacomo three years ago through Project Generations — a service group that connects Cornell and Ithaca College students with elderly members of the Ithaca community. A good friend of DiGiacomo’s and the organizer of the event, Praiss emphasized DiGiacomo’s impact on the University.

“Although he’s not a big name in the industry, he has still had an amazing impact through a really prolific career having built so many schools, retail shops, churches, you name it,” Praiss said. “For 13 years he essentially oversaw all construction on campus. And he even left his own mark on some parts of campus with the Willard Straight Hall Ivy Room and terrace, among many others.”

DiGiacomo said he began his career after returning from World War II, after gaining an architectural draftsmen’s education funded through the GI Bill.

“After I was discharged from the army in 1945, I did not know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I saw all these ads in The New York Times for architectural draftsmen, so that’s what I decided to do. I went to Drafting School for nine months paid for by the GI Bill.”

He added that he worked on several schools, retail buildings and churches, and designed the Long Island Hockey Arena in 1955.

“I had a nice career,” DiGiacomo said. “I never expected anybody to appreciate what I’ve done.”

Cameron Yang ’16, a participant in Project Generations, also acknowledged DiGiacomo’s influence on campus architecture.

“I think the biggest thing he’s taught me is if you find something you love to do, just go after it,” Yang said. “He literally tries everything, and that’s been a really big inspiration for me.”

DiGiacomo has published three books since his retirement, including My Architectural Journey, which he wrote this past month, according to Praiss.

“He’s 93,” Praiss said. “As young people I think we kind of live in fear of growing old, but the way he just embraces life gives me greater hope for the future.”