Weiss/Manfredi Lecture "Bridges" Academy and Industry on Cornell Tech Campus

a man and a woman speaking into a microphone
Michael Manfredi (M.Arch. '80) and Marion Weiss gave the 2017 L. Michael Goldsmith Lecture at AAP NYC. photo / William Staffeld
city and river skyline at night
A rendering of The Bridge at Cornell Tech, designed by Weiss/Manfredi. rendering / Weiss/Manfredi
speakers seated at a table in front of an audience
From left, Michael Manfredi, Marion Weiss, and Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director of AAP NYC Bob Balder (B.S. URS ’89); members of the Goldsmith family, front row; and AAP dean Kent Kleinman, far right. photo / William Staffeld
people speaking together at a professional reception
Marion Weiss speaking with graduate students at a reception following the lecture at AAP NYC. photo / William Staffeld
May 5, 2017

On April 19, Marion Weiss and Michael A. Manfredi (M.Arch. '80), cofounders of the architecture and landscape firm of Weiss/Manfredi, gave attendees of the annual L. Michael Goldsmith Lecture an inside look at their design process and their new building, The Bridge at Cornell Tech, during a talk at the AAP NYC facility in Manhattan.

In his opening remarks for the lecture, which was titled "Converging Territories," AAP's Gale and Ira Drukier Dean Kent Kleinman said, "Few architects working today embody an expanded conception of architecture as do Weiss and Manfredi. Part earth art, part engineering marvel, part urban theater, and part site archaeology, their projects perform on so many levels that any single disciplinary lens is inadequate to encompass them."

The architects' interest in an expanded territory for architecture that is free of disciplinary boundaries is exemplified in The Bridge, a focal point of the groundbreaking Cornell Tech campus, which opens in September as part of Cornell's expanding presence in New York City. Developed in partnership with Forest City Ratner Companies, The Bridge is a first-of-its-kind structure built for the digital age — a corporate co-location building that will bring new technologies to market faster by housing established tech companies and startups side-by-side with academic researchers.

"We loved Cornell's proposition to take the 100 square miles of Silicon Valley and compress them on an island — there is something incredibly provocative about that as the idea of a campus," said Manfredi. "It's a rare opportunity to invent an academy, and Cornell has been extraordinarily bold."

Weiss called the project an unprecedented kind of invention as well as a "bridge" between the academy and industry.

"The co-clients and the co-location gave the idea of convergence even more relevance and a whole new set of opportunities," said Weiss. "This dialogue is in a sense an invention, with all parties believing in something that has never been there before now."

Pointing to renderings and photos of interiors under construction, the architects detailed the building's central "bowtie" configuration that draws together all its occupants. Researchers, start-ups, and industry all have access to light, to see and be seen within a flexible, loft-like layout.

"The fantasy of this building for Cornell is that everything that happened in Silicon Valley — inefficiently and distributed geographically — could happen right here," said Weiss. "What would require long drives in California could turn into short walks up a staircase."

The architects demonstrated how the lift and lofting of the bowtie's cantilevered wings, and the site "cracked open like a wedge," offer surprising connection to the city and capture what is special about an island — views from river to river and peeks between the other buildings on the campus. Inside, sight-lines are maximized by minimizing columns and slim visible trusses.

During the Q&A following the talk, one of the several Goldsmith family members in attendance asked a "non-architect" question about comfort and efficiency of the glass surrounding the building. Weiss and Manfredi explained how a "prismatic magic" was accomplished with high performance, UV-coated glass and a visual trick — shadow boxes behind the glass wherever there is a floor plate. Although the exterior appears to be continuous glass, only about 60 percent is solid surface.

Asked how students should approach comprehensive design, the architects said Cornell AAP NYC is already doing what they would recommend by bringing in consultants, "thought leaders" who are forging the future within their disciplines. The architects urged the students in attendance to see the obligations of each discipline as opportunities.

For Manfredi, finding new ways of converging the challenges of finite resources with existing topography and previously built structures is an ethical agenda. "We've always been drawn to public projects, to architecture's redeeming capacity to reach a larger audience."

As Cornell continues to create, develop, and implement solutions with a meaningful impact in the world, The Bridge on the Cornell Tech campus is an example of convergence and innovation.

"The setting is magical," said Manfredi. "The chance to rethink the pedagogy of the academy and the agendas of entrepreneurship will start to play out over the next five to ten years on this very spot."

The annual Goldsmith lecture was established in memory of L. Michael Goldsmith by his family and friends in recognition of his passion for his education at Cornell, his career, and love of the profession of architecture.

By Patti Witten