Construction site as lab: Faculty uses Milstein Hall project in classes

March 20, 2010

While learning about building foundations in his architecture class last semester, Mikhail Grinwald (B.Arch. ’13) could walk outside his lecture hall and see the footings being constructed for Milstein Hall. While studying curtain wall systems, Grinwald modeled a section of the college’s new three-level home but added one variation — a terra cotta facade.

“As an architecture student, it’s really great,” said Grinwald, a sophomore from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Rather than vicariously experiencing the building process, we can really see it at the time we’re learning about the more technical aspects of architecture.”

As the 47,000-square-foot Milstein Hall begins to take shape, faculty members in AAP are drawing on the construction project as a teaching tool by incorporating it into course assignments and inviting key players in its design and development to visit their classes.

“Milstein Hall has the advantage of being a state-of-the-art building not only from its design but from a technical standpoint,” said Jonathan Ochshorn, associate professor of architecture. “It’s a really good case study for students to look at. It’s not a five-year-old or ten-year-old or twenty-year-old building. It’s brand new. And students have motivation to understand it since they will be occupying it in 18 months.”

In his Building Technology, Materials, and Methods class, Ochshorn assigned his students to study the Milstein Hall construction documents in the Fine Arts Library and to draw a cross section of the building. For the final project, the students were assigned to design a new facade and curtain wall system that would be different from the glass-and-stone veneer the building will use.

This assignment taught the students how to be “creative architects” by adding something new to the design, and not simply copying it, Ochshorn said. “What happens in architecture is that there are all sorts of precedents and rules of thumb that you might find in handbooks,” he explained. “But you’re always confronted with the challenge of how to do something new.”

Paul Joran (M.Arch. ’12), a student in Ochshorn’s class, organized a site tour that was attended by a dozen students and Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

“Here you are in that class, and they’re talking about footings and all that construction technology, and here was this building,” says Joran. “A lot of students get into that technical jargon. It’s one of those things that if you’re really interested in, you find fascinating.”

Joran hopes to organize another tour of the project once the steel girders are delivered to the site this spring. “Once they get the steel framework, that will make it a lot more enticing to students,” he said.

Another professor who is using the Milstein Hall project in his class is David Mah, a visiting critic in the architecture department. In a Professional Practice course he is coteaching this semester with Leyre Asensio Villoria, a visiting lecturer in architecture, and Mark Foerster, a visiting lecturer in city and regional planning, Mah has invited several key players involved with the project to visit the class and discuss issues such as obtaining government approvals and using management consultants.

Two guest lecturers to the class have discussed the city approval process for Milstein Hall: Michael Niechwiadowcz, deputy building commissioner for the City of Ithaca; and Andrew Magre (B.Arch. ’90), associate university architect and former project manager for Milstein Hall. In addition, Shohei Shigematsu, a partner with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the firm based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands that designed the building, will visit the class later this spring from his office in New York City to discuss managing a global office.

“I remember when I was going through all these things when I was a student, it was all so abstract,” said Mah, a registered architect in the United Kingdom. “With Milstein, it’s very clear for them when they see this building coming up from the ground to relate all these professional practice issues and processes that we cover in class to a real tangible project.”

By Sherrie Negrea

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