Milstein Hall to feature interplay between sustainability and design

October 8, 2009

Milstein Hall, now under construction, will incorporate a 24,000-square-foot green roof, the largest on Cornell’s campus. Floor-to-ceiling glass facades will invite consistent natural light levels and chilled beams installed in the ceiling will cool the three-level glass and concrete structure.

The sustainable design of the $52 million project will allow Milstein Hall to achieve a 31 percent reduction in energy costs, exceeding national standards for new construction. The energy savings in the 47,000-square-foot building will add one more step toward Cornell’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Architects from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the Rotterdam-based firm that designed Milstein Hall, say sustainability has been integrated into all phases of the project, from the site selection to the use of recycled steel. One of the initial decisions OMA made in designing Milstein Hall was to integrate Rand Hall into the site, rather than demolishing it as called for under previous plans.

“The key is the preservation of existing resources and materials,” says Ziad Shehab, an associate in OMA’s New York office and project architect for Milstein. “A lot of energy and resources go into the construction of a new building. Sustainability tries to find adaptive reuses of existing buildings rather than tearing them down.”

Plans for the building have always featured sustainable practices. Commitment to this approach was bolstered in 2008 when Cornell mandated that all new construction projects greater than $5 million reduce energy usage by 30 percent and achieve silver-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. 

“Milstein is driving toward sustainability and benchmarking itself with a nationally recognized system that will be open for review to the whole world,” says Matthew Kozlowski, an environmental project coordinator with Cornell's Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Office.

Like other buildings on campus, Milstein Hall will rely on Lake Source Cooling, a system that circulates water from Cayuga Lake to campus, to operate its central cooling system. In Milstein Hall, the lake water will flow into the chilled beams in the ceiling to cool the building.

What is unusual about the building’s sustainable design is the massive size of its green roof, says Jim Bash, an associate with Kendall/Heaton Associates, Inc. of Houston, the project’s architect of record. “The sheer size of it is definitely unique to projects that I’ve worked on,” he says.

Covered with two varieties of sedum supplied by Motherplants, a nursery in Enfield, the roof will insulate the building, reduce storm water runoff and mitigate the heat island effect — urbanized areas that become hotter than nearby rural areas. From a design perspective, the green roof is another facade reinforcing the concept of the building as a connector. A field of lighter colored sedums merges with a field of gradually increasing circles of darker colored sedums to create a symbolic link between the dense natural gorge and the man-made landscape of the Arts Quad.

“It’s very easy to check off the box by putting on a green roof, but we’re trying to put a design behind that,” says Shohei Shigematsu, a partner with OMA and director of the New York office. “This is one of the ways we integrate into the design the specifics of the program and the site with the technical solution.”

With twelve-foot-high glass walls on the building’s three levels, 57 percent of the exterior vertical walls will consist of glass, allowing natural light to illuminate the studios and classrooms. Skylights placed near the center of the upper level will increase in size to draw more light to the center of the interior.

The project will use at least 10 percent of materials from regional firms located within a 500-mile radius. Vitale, of Groton, will supply the concrete for the foundations while Saunders Companies, a Central New York firm with a plant in Ithaca, will provide the concrete for the caissons and the underpinning.

Once Milstein Hall is occupied, Facility Dynamics a consulting engineering firm based in Columbia, Maryland, will review the mechanical systems to make sure they are operating at peak performance. The firm will be commissioned to monitor the building for one year after construction is completed in August 2011.

By Sherrie Negrea

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