Milstein Hall gets final site approval from City of Ithaca

January 31, 2009

Paul Milstein Hall cleared its final municipal hurdle Jan. 27 with a unanimous 6-0 vote on final site plan approval from the City of Ithaca's Planning and Development Board.

The board's vote was the culmination of 15 months of municipal review of the project, first proposed in 2000 to expand facilities for Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP).

Groundbreaking is possible by early spring, project manager and associate university architect Andrew Magre '90 said, although no date has been set.

The proposed building, designed by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), will add 43,000 square feet of program space to existing AAP facilities. It will house new studio, gallery and meeting spaces and a 275-seat auditorium. The cantilevered building will extend over University Avenue and connect to Sibley and Rand halls.

"Architecture is always a cultural and civic act," said Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art and Planning. "With Milstein Hall, we're building in a fashion that respects the architectural legacy of the setting while advancing the standards of excellence and inquiry that Cornell embodies. I am convinced that we have a design that delivers both the pedagogical instrument we need and one that contributes in a very substantial way to the quality and renown of the institution."

The new facility is needed to help the college meet both accessibility and academic accreditation standards. Recent construction work to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act has been completed in Sibley Hall, and Rand Hall will have necessary access through its connection to Milstein Hall. "Milstein Hall will go all the way toward addressing those space and accessibility issues that are long-standing and immediate," said Department of Architecture chair Mark Cruvellier, one of many faculty members who have spoken in favor of the Milstein project over the course of the approvals process. "Going forward, it will help ensure that the department and the college remain at the forefront of design education."


The project also includes the Central Avenue Parking Garage, a three-level structure (two underground, one aboveground) adjacent to Milstein Hall and providing 199 parking spaces -- a net gain of 91 spaces over the existing parking lot north of Sibley and Tjaden halls, said landscape architect Kim Michaels of Trowbridge and Wolf, LLP. The surface level will be accessible from University Avenue and the underground levels from Central Avenue.

Before the Ithaca planning board vote, Magre presented samples of the building materials to be used in Milstein Hall -- window glass, extruded aluminum, stone and a striated marble intended to complement the grey and white exterior of Sibley Hall.

The final site plan vote was the third municipal approval given to the project in the past month. A findings statement on environmental impact and the preliminary site plan application (for both Milstein Hall and the parking garage) were approved by the planning board on Jan. 6. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission also approved the project at its Jan. 14 meeting.

"From a design standpoint, new projects on central campus can be very challenging," Magre said. "This project is an elegant solution that transforms an underutilized area of campus into a vibrant landscape while simultaneously providing much-needed space for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning."

The Milstein Hall project was initially funded in 2000 by a $10 million gift from New York City real estate developer and philanthropist Paul Milstein and his family. OMA was chosen to design the building in January 2006 after two other designs were considered and abandoned -- a $25 million, seven-story glass cube overlooking Fall Creek, proposed by Steven Holl Architects of New York in 2000; and a long, narrow building designed in 2002 by Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin.

OMA unveiled its original design in September 2006 and revised it in 2007 to a cantilever plan that did away with a row of supporting columns along the north side of University Avenue. Kendall/Heaton Associates are the production architects on the project.

"My opinion of this project totally turned around when you got rid of those columns," Ithaca planning board chairman John Schroeder '74 said after Tuesday's vote.

By Daniel Aloi

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