A Building Cornell Regrets, and That Time I Was Duped

16 09 2014

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Cornell’s a large campus with many buildings to its name. With some, form comes before function (Balch isn’t the most practical layout for a dorm, as eye-catching as it is), and others it’s function before form (Olin Lab, for instance). The goal is to have both a pleasing form and functionally efficient, which many of the more beloved buildings, like Willard Straight Hall, have been able to accomplish.

Some building accomplish neither. Some buildings do such a bad job at accomplishing form or function that they force the university to do an overhaul of its planning process.

There’s a few that could earn such a dubious distinction (old MVR north and Bradfield come to mind), but one resulted in a special amount of acrimony – Uris Hall.

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Let me do a quick summary. Uris Hall was completed in 1972 thanks to a generous donation from real estate developer Harold Uris ’25 and his brother Percy (who graduated from Columbia, which has a less offensive Uris Hall). According to the now-offline Dear Uncle Ezra’s 12/27/2005 edition, Cornell gave the donors the ability to dictate design preferences, and while they were in Pittsburgh, the Urises noticed how amazing the (then new) U.S. Steel tower’s facade looked (which uses cor-ten steel). They wanted to see that on the new building, so that’s why it was used on Uris Hall. Corten steel turns a rusty-gold with blue overtones when it reacts with common air pollutants, but because of Ithaca’s lack of air pollution to oxidize the steel’s surface, it’s a decades-long process.

Okay, so it’s ugly. But it gets so much worse than that.

For one thing, the upkeep of the facade gave the building an incredibly high maintenance cost, something that Cornell was not happy about. An October 2, 1973 Sun article notes that Uris cost about 81 cents per square foot to maintain in 1972-1973, compared to the campus average of 15 cents per square foot. When a building is 174,000 square feet, that cost really adds up (if you’re keeping score at home, that’s about $115,000 in 1973 dollars, or about $616,000 today). There were a couple primary reasons for this: large glass expanses of single-pane bronze-tinted glass resulted in huge utility bills and were too big for facilities equipment to clean, and the slowly rusting steel. Technically, if all had gone to plan, the rust would have formed quickly, and the oxidized surface of the steel would have created a protective coating and kept future maintenance costs low. In reality, the slow rusting resulted in a runoff of steel oxide film being deposited onto the glass, which had to be quickly cleaned off before it could etch into the windows. So every rainstorm was a race against time with inadequate equipment. These were things that the architect, Roy O. Allen Jr. of SOM, admitted had not crossed his mind when designing the building.

For what it was worth, Harold Uris donated another $1 million for the building’s maintenance, and the university reconsidered the balance of building design vs. maintenance costs. Corson himself declared that the university would not borrow money to construct buildings that would be a long-term burden on university finances.

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Well, I’ll admit I’ve been tricked. I ran a couple keyword checks to see if the article cited below checked out and nothing came up to suggest it was false. Apparently I used the wrong keywords. My mistake! I commend the 1970s Daily Sun for making it so believable. -BC

Ah, but when it rains, it pours! And when it pours, it corrodes the exterior steel, to the point where the entirety of Uris Hall had its structure compromised. So the university found itself in May 1974, two years after the building opened. The university was a little nervous about issues with Uris Hall and commissioned a team of civil engineers to examine the building. They found that only was the steel weak from corrosion, the building was liable to collapse in a matter of weeks. Harold Uris freaked out. Unable to bear further embarrassment from his namesake building, he threatened to take back a $1 million donation unless students were away from campus while emergency repairs were taking place at the end of May. This meant rescheduling student exams and reducing the exam study period from five days to two in order to accommodate. The university claimed that it was a chilled water/air conditioning issue that caused the abbreviated study schedule. In sum – a rich donor held the university by its financial balls and forced 15,000 students to undergo undue extra stress in order to hide an embarrassing mistake that was in some degree the result of his architectural tastes. The only reason all this news became public is because the outgoing arts dean refused to go along with the charade. Thomas Mackesey, the VP of planning who had signed off on Uris Hall, resigned as a result of the fiasco.

There’s probably more to the aftermath, but the Sun archives lack information for fall 1974 through early 1978. But at the very least, when it came to being a disaster of a project, Uris Hall wins the gold medal.

 

 

 





Cornell Construction Projects Update, 9/2014

10 09 2014

1. The future Klarman Hall progresses on East Avenue. The $61 million, 33,250 sq ft humanities building being built by Welliver is currently in the process of building its north foundation wall, with rebar assembly underway this month (Jason at IB offers a more thorough explanation). The concrete is being poured section-by-section, and the north foundation wall has made some progress since Jason’s photos from September 1st.

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2. Exterior work is finishing up on Statler Hall. The $2.4 million renovation and 1,300 sq addition to the front entrance will be finished before winter comes, and will round out phase III of renovations to the ca. 1949 structure. All three additions are by KSS Architects.

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3. Renovations continue to the historic wing of Stocking Hall. Inside, ceilings are being dry-walled and walls are being primed. The gutters are being replaced and new windows are being prepared for the the original 1921 structure.  These photos don’t show these details, but I have a friend who’s kind enough to forward the project updates the program sends to its alumni. The project is a little behind schedule since it was due to finish in August 2014, and it looks like Q1 or Q2 of 2015 is a safer bet. Both the renovations and the new addition cost a combined $105 million.

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4. A more subtle campus project is the re-landscaping of the campus property along Tower Road. The road was repaved, and the adjacent parking was removed and replaced with sidewalks, lighting and covered bus shelters. Considering this is where I typically park when I visit the campus, I’m less than enthused, but it is a prettier sight then the pothole-laden parking spaces that used to be there.

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Cornell Construction Updates, June 2014

4 07 2014

Three sets of Cornell updates in this post – the law school addition is complete, Klarman Hall excavation is underway, and a picture from the Statler Hall renovation (which Jason just posted about).

The law school addition, by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects and constructed by Welliver, is part of the multi-phased renovation of the law school, which began in 2012. The cost of the renovation is begged at $55-60 million, with 40,000 sq ft of new space and 160,000 sq ft of renovated space. The architects specialize in contemporary additions sympathetic to present facilities – arguably, one of the few parts of Cornell where this was deemed an important matter (looking at you, Hotel School).

The Hotel School addition is phase three of renovations, adding a modern entrance to Statler Hall. The glassy entrance will add 1,619 sq ft at a cost of $2.4 million, and should be complete in time for the fall semester.

Klarman Hall, given its notable location behind Goldwin Smith, is the campus project du jour, sporting 67,500 sq ft of space (33,250 sq ft usable) and a $61 million price tag. Foundation footings will be completed by early august, and foundation pouring by mid September. Final construction will wrap up in December 2015, as posted on the sign below.

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Apparently naming green spaces is fashionable. I thought that Pew Quad and Rawlings Green would be the extent of it.

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Dairy Bar and Bar Argos, 4/2014

15 04 2014

Two of the bars I hit up last weekend. For the former, it was my first time inside the new Stocking Hall (the old one is undergoing renovation, and the project won’t be fully complete until 2015). It was absolutely packed with 4H kids/parents, and Cornell Days kids/parents. To order and receive ice cream was a 40-minute endeavor. But I got my Italian lemon cream cake, and that’s what matters.

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Meanwhile, on the more adult end of the spectrum, this past weekend was also my first time inside Bar Argos, the open-to-the-public bar of the Argos Inn. I had a Cuba Libre that was not overpowering, just the right amount of bite. Drinks here run on the high side of average, but the interior was fairly warm and inviting.
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News Tidbits 1/11/2014: Unhappy Faces on Roosevelt Island

11 01 2014
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Image Property of Cornell University

Full disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the tech campus. I’ve also never been a fan of Morphosis/Thom Mayne’s work.

New York is a different creature when it comes to approvals. This isn’t Ithaca, where many folks feel that Cornell’s large presence makes the local community behooved to approve whatever the university wants to build. Here, people tend to be a lot more vocal, and perhaps a lot more negative. Folks in New York are especially wary of Thom Mayne because of his involvement with the 41 Cooper Square project, a building that has been seen as one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis experienced by local college Cooper Union, which has led to an end of their famous “free tuition” policy.

Last month, Cornell revealed the first phase of the tech campus, which Curbed NY has covered in extensive detail. The first phase has three components; 1) a 150,000 sq ft, 4-story building designed by Thom Mayne (the building lower left; the roof is covered with solar panels, or what Thom Mayne calls a “lily pad”) 2) A six-story, 200,000 sq ft “Colocation Building”, which is designed for corporate and school interaction. This is the building to the right, and is designed by another Cornell favorite, Weiss/Manfredi Architects, and 3) The residential building, represented by the tall featureless box. A design has not been finalized, but is being handled by developer Hudson Companies, in conjunction with Handel Architects. This build will house about 350 units, with larger units for faculty. Construction for the residential tower is proposed for a 2015 start. The campus is wrapped in green space by architect James Corner, who designed a campus without walls and to invite the public to check the school out, and all of this using an Skidmore, Owings and Merrill master plan.

Community groups are difficult to please, however. Although the net zero energy aspect was pleasing, complaints were raised about the large loss of trees, a lack of equipment for the hearing-impaired in the new academic building, and a lack of cohesiveness as the result of so many starchitects trying to compete with each other for attention. Regardless of the complaints, construction is supposed to be underway starting this month. New York and Bloomberg have previously stipulated that the first building must be open by 2017, or Cornell will face major penalties.

On the bright side, Cornell’s getting crap tons of money thrown at its New York investments. Following Chuck Fenney ’56’s $350 million donation to the tech campus, former Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs ’56 gave a $133 million donation last April, and total donations to the tech campus exceed $500 million. Weill Cornell has not been left out by all this tech campus attention; they were the recent recipients of a $75 million donation for cancer research, courtesy of former CEO of Grey Global Group Edward Mayer ’48 and his family.

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Image Property of Cornell University





Stocking and Klarman Hall Progress Photos, 12/2013

7 01 2014

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This photo is probably timed similarly to Jason’s over at Ithaca Builds. Consistent with his analysis, a little bit of scaffolding visible in this image gives indication of the roof work being done to Goldwin Smith, and underground work over east Avenue is closed up, if temporarily. The $61 million dollar token glassy box adds 33,250 sq ft of new usable space.

Note for Cornell visitors – from this Wednesday (Jan 8th) to April 19th, 2015, the southbound lane of East Avenue will be closed to facilitate construction of Klarman Hall. I’d get around to feeling sympathetic, but I had the Thurston Ave. bridge detour my freshman year, and then years of Milstein, so…eh. Deal with it.

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The time difference between photos 1/2 and 3 is about 15 days. I just happened to pass through Ithaca twice in December, for two separate events (the first one though, I was only able to take photos on Cornell campus). I doubt I’ll be as lucky in the next few months.

Stocking Hall phase 2 is underway. Luckily for me, I have a friend that is a food science alum, who sends me all of the email updates. Quoting the one sent this past Thursday:

Phase 2 of the renovation project started several months ago with a focus on getting as much of the slate roof replaced as possible before winter. I think they were able to get about 70% of Stocking re-roofed. Asbestos abatement was the first part of the inside work. Once a floor was abated, Pike [construction company] worked on demolishing all interior walls.  Last Thursday (1/2/14) an independent testing agency certified the air test was safe after the abatement was completed on all floors. We took our first look on Friday.

The basement has been gutted, the first floor has undergone asbestos abatement and will begin demo shortly, the second and fourth floors have been gutted, and the third floor isn’t far along, still in the initial teardown/salvage stage. The renovation of old Stocking is due to be complete in August 2014.





Gates Hall Progress Photos, 12/2013

5 01 2014

 

With an anticipated opening date early in 2014 (slightly behind schedule), the $60 million, 101,000 sq ft Gates Hall project is nearly complete. The work left at this point appears to be completion of the primary entrance structures (the “feet”, to use Jason’s term), a little landscaping, and interior work. Kinda odd to think the discussion of Gates Hall on this blog goes back to nearly the very beginning (and technically, since Bill Gates donated the money in 2006, this project has been in queue for even longer).

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