Ithaca Thaw

Ithaca Thaw

Cornell University has decided to go forward with OMA’s expansion of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning despite a construction freeze.
Courtesy OMA

Amid strained budgets and a campus-wide building stall at Cornell, two high-profile pieces of architecture are moving ahead: the OMA-designed Paul Milstein Hall for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), and the Pei Cobb Freed–designed addition to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Both projects were pushed through by pressing need. AAP faced losing its accreditation due to sub-par facilities, and the museum’s collection has nearly quadrupled since its current building opened in 1973.

In addition to Milstein hall, Cornell will move forward with plans to expand its art museum. click to view a slideshow of both projects.
COURTESY Pei Cobb Freed

Milstein Hall’s path to groundbreaking has been nothing short of torturous, with previous iterations designed by Steven Holl and Barkow Leibinger eliminated along the way. The OMA design faced opposition from the city as well as from some students and faculty, who argued that the building was extravagant and out of step with campus sustainability goals.

And then came the economic downturn, which forced the university to reevaluate all building projects on campus. Deans of each school were asked to plead the case for their respective projects, and the AAP’s accreditation woes pushed the project through. The trustees unanimously agreed to move ahead with the project on May 23. “It’s a remarkable conclusion to a complex tale,” Kent Kleinman, AAP’s dean, told AN.

Eliminating a parking garage from the scope of work for the project reduced costs by $12 million to $55.5 million. “The decision to build Paul Milstein Hall now, while deferring the parking garage project, caps a decade-long struggle to address inadequate facilities at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, and to preserve the pre-eminence of the nation’s top undergraduate architecture program,” Cornell President David Skorton said in a statement. The building is expected to be complete in time for the 2011 fall term.

Flying under the radar, and with far less controversy, the addition to the Johnson Museum will add 16,000 square feet to the facility, long considered an exemplary university art museum building. The austere concrete structure has a dramatic cantilevered gallery on the south side. The addition will be built on the building’s north side, increasing the museum’s overall size by 26 percent.

“We began planning and fundraising in 1995,” said Frank Robinson, director of the museum. “We raised all the money ourselves.” I.M. Pei, the original designer with John Sullivan, has given his blessing for the addition, and Sullivan, now an associate partner at Pei Cobb Freed, is designing the extension, which includes both above- and below-ground galleries.

The addition is very much in keeping with the 1970s idiom of the original. “We wanted to preserve the stylistic and artistic integrity of the building,” Robinson said. “It’s a masterpiece and a wonderful building to work with. I didn’t feel the need to assert myself, but rather to complement the building.”

Pei designed the museum with expansion in mind. The lower level included a knockout panel for a below-ground extension. Sullivan’s design includes a new lecture hall, gallery for contemporary art, and a small, sunken garden area. The project is also scheduled for completion in 2011.

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.