The Student Who Designed A Collegetown Apartment Building

12 08 2014

6-29-2014 163

Here’s another installment in the Collegetown history series.

I like to imagine that it’s every architect’s ambition to have one of their designs built, a building they can touch with their hands. For some, it takes longer than others. Firms have their hierarchies, and companies have their preferred architects. Many budding designers have to start out small, designing housing additions or lobby areas or pavilions, slowly working their up to larger and grander projects. I imagine the Cornell students hard at work in Sibley and Rand Halls dream of the day that one of their designs becomes reality.

It just so happens that for one Cornell student, their big break came a little sooner than most. It happened while they were still a student at Cornell. The building they designed stands in Collegetown today.

I’m not talking William Henry Miller, or some architect from the much simpler times of the nineteenth century. For this, I only need to go back to the early 1980s.

At the time, the company Student Agencies, Inc. was based at 409 College Avenue, just like it is today. Student Agencies is a student-run business that operates Big Red Shipping and Storage, Hired Hands Moving, and produces the Cornellian yearbook and TakeNote, among other things. 409 College is the second building from left in the lead image, and I’ve included a google screencap below. Back in the Disco Era, the Student Agencies building was a rather ramshackle three-story house with a bump-out. You can see the outline of it here, in a photo of College Avenue ca. 1968. The building housed Student Agencies, and a restaurant called “The Vineyard”, a 1970s mainstay for bland Italian-like food until it closed in 1980.

409_college_avenue

In the fall of 1980, Student Agencies decided to up their game with a new, modern apartment building, one of the first planned in Collegetown area. At the time, Collegetown was still something of a drug-ridden ghetto, lacking today’s high-end units and wealthy students; it was a no-go for many Cornellians. Student Agencies, being the shrewd businesspeople they are, decided to add a twist to their development by making it into a design competition. In a collaboration with Cornell’s architecture school, 4th and 5th year architecture students were invited to submit designs for a mixed-use structure on the site, within zoning constraints. The designs would then be judged on practicality and aesthetics. The judges consisted of the Chairman of the Architecture Department (Jerry Wells), another Cornell architecture professor (Michael Dennis), two Syracuse University architecture professors (Werner Seligmann, the dean, and Prof. Walter Danzinger), Mick Bottge of the Ithaca City Planning Board, and two Student Agencies reps, Peter Nolan and Ed Clement. The winner would not only see their design built, but also win $1,000 (about $2,893 today). Three runner-ups would receive $250 each, and $250 would be donated by SA to publish a booklet of the designs. $2,000 ($5,786 adjusted) was a lot less than hiring a design firm, and it also gave Cornell students an ability to showcase their talents in a practical event. Win-win.

27 designs were received. Now, I would sacrifice a goat to your deity of choice if it allowed me to obtain a copy of the booklet, but I’m afraid I’m out of goats. The winners were announced in March 1981, and the first prize went to Grace R. Kobayashi ’81. The runner-ups were Mustafa K. Abadan ’82, Dean J. Almy ’82, and George M. How ’82. Ms. Kobayashi’s five-story design called for a theater, retail space, and apartments on the upper floors. In an interview with the Sun, she mentioned that although the competition ran for three months, she created her design in only a week and a half. As for the award money, she added “realistically, the award money will go towards graduate school, but maybe I’ll go to Europe.”

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Well, Ms. Kobayashi wouldn’t have to worry about grad school money. The following year, she received an extremely prestigious fellowship from the internationally-renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, to the tune of $10,000. The history gets harder to trace after that; she was selected as a fellow for the Amercian Academy in Rome in 1989, and had been a practicing architect in the NYC area at the time. Presently, it looks like she may be an instructor at the Pratt Institute in NYC. Mustafa Abadan is a partner at SOM, Dean Almy is an associate professor of architecture at UT-Austin, and George How went to work for equally-presitgious Kohn Pedersen Fox, and co-designed NASA’s headquarters. Sadly, he passed away in 1993 due to complications related to AIDS, aged 35.

As for the building, it would be a few years before it was built, finally beginning construction in 1985 and finishing in fall 1986. Today, it blends in seamlessly to the fabric of the 400 block of College Avenue, creating a fully built-out block of similar massing and scale, unique and yet part of a cohesive group that gives some some urbanity to Collegetown. I wonder how many other towns can claim to have a Grace Kobayashi design in their midst?





The Six Contenders for the Old Library

22 04 2014

libe_0414

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.

dpi_libe_0414

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.
franklin_libe_0414

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.

iad_libe_0414

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.

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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.

roccorner_libe_0414

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.
travhyde_libe_0414

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.

130eclinton_rev1

130eclinton_rev2

130eclinton_rev3

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.

purity_design_1

purity_design_2

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.

purity_design_3

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:








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