The Six Contenders for the Old Library

22 04 2014


Most people are aware that the old Tompkins County library is about to be left completely vacant. As covered by Ithaca Builds last fall, the county issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI), inviting developers to cast their lures and offer proposals, and the plan perceived as best would garner its developer the ability to buy the old library and build on the parcel. The county expressed preference for proposals that were eco-friendly and would create senior housing, so the proposals play to that preference. In a long if thorough process, the County Planning Advisory Board will make a preliminary review, recommend its choices to the legislature, and the legislature will select the finalists, who will be asked to submit more thorough proposals of their initial entries, detailing info such as project financing. The county makes it final selection in November, with sale of the parcel to the winning developer in March 2015.

This is exciting, it’s like watching competitors at an Olympic event.  All proposals can be found at the county website here, individual links are included with each shot below. Feel free to voice your opinion on your favorite proposal in the comments.

1. DPI Consultants

DPI Is a private developer operating out of Rochester. Their group has some previous local involvement, converting the old county jail to offices in the early 1990s, and they were involved with the Johnson Museum addition a few years back.  Their plan calls for 76 condos and 8 apartments in 2 5-story buildings (max buildable height for the parcel is 50 feet, for the record). The condos would be mid-to-upper tier for pricing, and the project would have underground “automated parking”.  This proposal is the only one that does not have a focus on seniors.


2. Franklin Properties

Franklin Properties of Syracuse has teamed with a group of local firms (STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering, among others) to propose a 68,000 sq ft “wellness center” for the library site, which they call the “Cayuga Community Education Center”. The first two floors would have a cafe and medical offices for doctors and non-profits, with three floors (32 units) of senior housing on top. The building would incorporate solar panels and is aiming for a 2017 opening if selected. The proposal seems to be the only one that reuses the original library, and already has some letters of support from local businesses.

3. Integrated Acquisition and Development

IAD proposes a LEED-certified, 115,500 sq ft, four-story structure they call “Library Square”, with 90 apartments, conference rooms, a library and fitness center space. The project suggests a late 2016 completion. Parking is behind the L-shaped primary structure. IAD has been involved in the Ithaca area previously, being the owner of several properties in Lansing (Warrenwood, the medical offices of Trimhammer), and the lead developer of several of the office buildings in Cornell’s office park near the airport.


4. INHS (Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services)

Locally prolific non-profit INHS comes up to bat again, this time proposing a project for the library site. Their proposal, called “DeWitt House”, calls for a 4-story, 60,000-80,000 sq ft building with 60 to 70 units of affordable housing, not specifically geared to seniors. The selling feature is an internal courtyard, along with community space and 6,000-8,000 feet of commercial space for rent. This one also has underground parking. The time frame for this one seems to be the latest, with completion in the 1st quarter of 2018.


5. Rochester Cornerstone Group / Cayuga Housing Development

Cornerstone is a Rochester based non-profit housing developer. CHD is directed by the same people as the Ithaca Housing Authority, who operate Titus Towers. The proposal consists of 70-80 units of affordable senior housing, in a 4-story 54′ structure (i.e. it would need a zoning variance). The building would have covered ground-level parking and some surface parking. Full occupancy would be in late 2016. Token snark here, but next time, ask the architects not to use the glare tool in your renderings. Building roofs are not shiny.


6. Travis Hyde

Ithaca based private developer Travis Hyde submitted the last proposal on this list. Travis Hyde is involved with the renovations of the Carey Building, the construction of Gateway Commons, and further back, Eddygate in Collegetown. Travis Hyde teamed up (once again) with Ithaca-based HOLT Arechitects for their proposal, which is probably the one that discusses architectural context the most out of the six. The 4-story 90,000 sq ft building would have 48 apartments with office and community space at street level. While it discusses providing senior housing, it doesn’t appear to be explicitly senior housing. Parking would be minimal, on the western edge of the site, with mass transit/municipal parking garage incentives being explored. Spring 2017 is the suggested completion date.

May the best project win.

130 East Clinton Goes Even More Boxy

10 06 2013

Not much in the way of new and exciting to mention as of late – the last planning board meeting focuses on projects already covered here and on Ithaca Builds (Harold’s Square, The Purity Project, the Thurston Ave. Apts and Klarman Hall), and the town cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting, which is what happens when no one has anything that needs to go to the boards. Thankfully (from this perspective anyway) it is construction season, so much work is underway around-and-abouts.

One detail work noting and sharing is a redesign for the 130 East Clinton project, designed by Sharma architects on behalf of  steretoypical one-percenter Jason Fane and his real estate company. No longer does it have hipped roofs.




Apparently, the architects decided to go with the “box of boxes” look, with a little bright color on the extensions for a little character. The design before was traditional and rather bland. Now it’s more modern but still fairly bland. But it’s density in a growing downtown, so I’m not complaining.

The Purity Project Design

14 05 2013

So, I know I’m playing “catch-up” here, but the guys at Ithaca Builds have shown me a potential source for renderings – the specialized google search of city documents. Lo and behold, elevations for the Purity Project. From John Snyder Architects, it’s boxy and glassy and rather restrained as modern designs go.



The design would have a 5-story structure that tops out at 64 feet – more than enough to make it a visual focal point for the surrounding neighborhood.


The rendering from Ithaca  Builds suggest the building will use brickwork for some of the lines of the facade. Also, personal opinion, the curved-wall two-bedroom units facing the inlet and West Hill would arguably be some of the coolest apartments in Ithaca. Construction is anticipated for commencement in September, going through to summer 2014.



Thurston Avenue’s Fitting Addition

13 05 2013

thurston ave 1

So, the folks at Ithaca Builds brought my attention to PDFs containing site plans, floor plans and elevations for the Thurston Avenue apartment project, slated for the wooded parcel at the northeast corner of Thurston Avenue and Highland Avenue. The design here has to contextually sensitive, since it lies within the Cornell Heights Historic District. So, boxy and glassy won’t cut it with this parcel. So, the architects in employ put their creative powers to work…and two restyles later

Design for Building 1

thurston ave 3


Design of Buildings 2 and 3

thurston ave 2

The latest design proposed by HOLT Architects shows four buildings with three styles – Building 1 (northernmost) and Buildings 2 and 3 (against Highland to its east) are fairly similar, though 2 and 3 are set into the hillside a little, and the design reflects that. Building 4 has massing more like a large house than an apartment building. Oddly enough, the PDF lacks elevations for Building 4. Assuming the floorplans in the PDF are similar on each floor in each building, this would produce 20 units, with 56 bedrooms (54 3-bedroom, 2 1-bedroom). Parking spaces were reduced from the originally proposed 40 to 27.

Does it fit within the context of the neighborhood? The designs demonstrate hipped roofs, porches, architectural elements similar to the surroundings, and material samples and colors shown seem appropriate…so, check. Also, for what incredibly little it’s worth, I think it’s a very good design for the parcel, so much I wish they would tear down the ca. 1966 Rabco complex next door (although, I do wonder if the Tudor-esque “exposed beams” are a bit overboard). But, the real test will come when these begin construction, which with approvals in hand, should start around November, with a summer 2014 completion.

The Revised Harold’s Square

12 04 2013

Two things. One, noting that it is not Harold Square, but Harold’s Square. Well noted.

Two, as shown by the Ithaca Times, the proposed design has been revised. And in the opinion of one armchair architecture critic, it has gone from meh to hideous.

haroldsrevised2 haroldsrevised1

For reference, the old renderings. Now, I thought the original design for the Commons side was fairly okay. The revised proposal…it looks grim, the “modern” steel sections are like tumors growing out of a rather cold and dour facade. The exposed truss on the tower portion is gone, but now there are narrow misaligned slit windows. Reminiscent of Cascadilla Hall. Or a prison. Or most closely, the rather awful 499 South Warren Street in Syracuse.

Don’t get me wrong, I like what the project provides – mixed-use, high-density, downtown-friendly. But unless the materials are mind-blowing, I fear this thing is going to age terribly.

All Ivies Make (Architectural) Mistakes

28 11 2011

Somewhere during my crappiest Thanksgiving ever, I was reading through the online Daily Sun and came across some comment where the individual suggested that Cornell has the worst architecture in the Ivy League. I spent a little while mulling over that critique – sure, some of our halls are quite ugly, but the worst Ivy?

Curious, I decided to look at some  of other schools. I don’t have some chip on my shoulder over the lack of “pretty” buildings at Cornell, and certainly “ugly” is a subjective term. But Cornell is not the only school that has designed buildings that have earned harsh rebukes from certain audiences.

Harvard people have been criticizing themselves for years. One of the first things that came up in my search was a polite criticism of the modern architecture that took over Harvard’s campus starting the late 1950s (the Quincy and Leverett Towers). The article was published in the Crimson, the Harvard student newspaper, in the early 1990s. If you really want to go in depth, someone wrote an entire book dedicated to reviewing Harvard’s architecture. Today, Harvard is putting up modern buildings such as a science buildinga new graduate housing complex, and Tata Hall (I’m still wondering if Cornell plans on naming a building for Ratan Tata ’59) The take away could be that Harvard, like Cornell, builds in the style of the times; but it would be worth noting that Harvard has buildings 130 years older than Cornell.

Down in New Haven, Yale is no stranger to “ugly” architecture either, with such structures as the Art and Architecture Building and the Beinecke Library to its credit. Their newest set of dorms are designed in a Collegiate Gothic style that has mass appeal, but they decided to demolish several historic buildings to build it.

Going down the list, I didn’t see one campus that was “unscathed”. Princeton, U Penn, Brown, Columbia, even Dartmouth, which lacks your usual Science and Engineering building culprits. It seems most of them entered the 60s and threw cohesion out the window for daring departures that have, for the most part, not aged well. Even now, many of these schools are still trying some avant-garde edginess to further their names.

Would I venture support or denial of the “ugliest Ivy” claim? I am forced to stay neutral. I’ve only been to four of their campuses, not to mention it’s a matter of opinion. But, considering some of the college campuses out there, I know things could be much worse:

A Critique of Cornell’s Constructions

20 04 2010

For an architecture junkie like myself, Munier Salem’s column in the Sun today was a must-read. The article briefly went over the previous eras of architecture of Cornell’s campus, and then zeroes in on the Arts Quad and the perceived blight that Milstein Hall will bring to this part of campus.

Not that I disagree. Well before I started this blog I can remember a long discussion about campus architecture Munier and I had in Cascadilla Hall. Munier has never hidden an opinion that almost anything built after 1955 has been either par for the  course or an eyesore. That being said, the architecture of Cornell buildings could be said to be distinctly to the taste of the time period. As Munier pointed out, Romanesque and Collegiate Gothic dominated Cornell’s first 75 or so years, followed by the rapid rise of modernism, in part because it was now en vogue, in part because it was cheap. The U-Halls were the  sign of things to come (inversely, Teagle Hall could probably be considered the last of the Collegiate Gothic era, as both the U-Halls and Teagle were constructed in the early 1950s). They certainly weren’t attractive, but they weren’t ugly. They were  utilitarian, like the Old Stone Row, but with ninety years of technological advancement, design trends and expectations of medicority to fall back on.

Don’t get me wrong, Old Noyes, seen on the left of this photo, was a brutalist piece of crap. But it wasn’t built until 1967. Olin Lab was famed for mediocrity (found elsewhere on this blog). Bradfield grows on you at best, and gives you cataracts at its worst. They were built to the style of the times and on tight budgets, ornamentation and “fine” taste be damned. Much of it has aged terribly, as dated as vinyl clothes.

Today, as Munier also pointed out, we live in the era of postmodernism, which at least attempts to blend the taste of older structures with newer engineering and materials.  Done right, this turns out to be typical “cake” architecture that, while not anything to write home about, also avoids being offensive. If done really well, such as Princeton’s new Whitman College, it can look as good as the old Gothic (although one could argue about craftsmanship).

However, that being said, we live in an era of “Starchitects”. where a name carries more weight than a building. I. M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Robert A. M. Stern, Sir Norman Foster, Kenzo Tange, the A-list has at least a few dozen architects who could churn out steaming piles and yet because their name is attached to it, it wins renown. Here’s where Rem Koolhaas come into the picture. Designing a building for an architecture school carries with it the expectation of being edgy, avant-garde. So of course, to varying degrees of distaste we have had three edgy designs for Milstein Hall by Steven Holl, Barkow Leibinger and Associates, and Koolhaas. Koolhaas only wins in my book for being boring and unimpressive, versus downright ugly for the other two.

Is it a good practice to let Starchitects have free reign? Probably not. The name has power now, but who now remembers Gordon Bunshaft or Minoru Yamasaki? One designed Lever House in New York City, which hearalded the rise of glass boxes; the other designed the old World Trade Center in New York. It would seem the weight of a name decreases with time. Some people feel that the power of Gothic structures can do wonders for a school’s reputation.

I dunno if there’s any truth in that. But if it is, can we please hire this firm?

Milstein Hall: Just Build the Damn Thing

16 07 2008

So, continuing with my ongoing fascination with proposed facilities for the university, it would be impossible to forget Milstein Hall. Wait…yes it would. The building has been through so many redesigns and so many hold-ups that if it takes any longer, I won’t be here to enjoy the finished product. And that makes me sad.

But anyways a brief review. Milstein Hall is the proposed addition to the neverending red tape architecture school, curently in its third rendition, a $40 million, 43,000 sq. ft box [1].

In Koolhaas’s own words, “It is a box that is contaminated by its neighbors and will contaminate its neighbors.” Um, I’m not exactly sure that’s the best way to put it. I’m no architecture student, but I get this vague uneasiness of another Uris Hall situation.

But this is the third rendition. And the other two weren’t exactly pretty either. The saga starts in 2000, when Paul Milstein, a prominent NYC developer, donated $10 million towards the construction of a new facility in February 2000 [6]. Milstein himself did not attend Cornell, but two of his kids did (a third sorta did, she transferred to Yale).

The first design was chosen in a four-way competition that concluded in April 2001. The winner was Steven Holl, for his proposal to build a seven-story cube on the location of Rand Hall, which would have been demolished. The project was set at $25 million, and to be completed in late 2004 [2] (fun tidbit: chair of the selection jury was James Polshek of Polshek Architects, the same firm responsbile for the design of Gates Hall).

Well, the demolition of Rand Hall didn’t sit too well with people, and a lot of people had some critiques for the design (more renderings at It was a box with cutouts on the west side. Once again, I’m not an architect, but it looks to me like taking a pair of scissors to a paper cube and calling it a design. This is cutting edge…?

So, the university dropped their deal with Holl in July 2002, and by November had selected Barkow Leibinger Architects as the firm to design the building. With a pegged completion date of fall 2006 [3]. Once again, the design was rather…interesting.

For a larger photo, go to, and go under competitions, 2003. There you can see that this cutting-edge building also planned to tear down Rand Hall. And once again, there were issues with the design. I can’t say I’m personally too fond of it either, though I like it more than Holl’s design. It says this was to be 6000 sqm, or about 65,000 sq. ft.

Well, that didn’t pan out either, so by September 2006, Rem Koolhaas, the designer of the much celebrated (and 15x more expensive) CCTV tower in Beijing, was announced as the lead architect of the Milstein Hall Project. The square footage had shrunk by a third, and the price tag was up 75%, but there was hope that the damn thing might be built by 2010 [4]. Well, until the City of Ithaca and Cornell decided to have a fight over who controls University Avenue [5].

Long story short (unless you like hearing about SEQR determinations and environmental reviews), the fact that Milstein is designed to stand on both sides of University Avenue 15 feet above the ground kinda posed some issues. Namely, who owns University Avenue, since the current design doesn’t fly with city guidelines. After much arguing, the city decided to sell Cornell the portion of University from Chi Psi up to the intersection with Thurston for the price of $2 million, provided that much needed repairs were completed. Also, Milstein would be cantilevered over the street, to avoid building on both sides. Hopefully, now all the obstacles have been cleared.

So here we are, eight years later and nothing done but a lot of hot air being blown around nevertheless. While I would hope that something is done eventually, I can’t say I’m holding out much hope (especially for a design that I like, but I guess I just don’t understand architecture).








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