Ithaca, New York

In an exhibition he organized at the New Museum in New York City last year, Rem Koolhaas took the preservation movement to task, arguing that it had become an “empire” all too successful at tying the hands of architects and suffocating daring thinking. Entitled Cronocaos and co-curated by Shohei Shigematsu, his partner at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the exhibition displayed projects from the past 35 years, in which the firm has wrestled with issues of preservation, particularly with its unbuilt addition to the Whitney Museum in New York and its ongoing plan for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. If you saw the show (or its earlier incarnation at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010), you might expect to find OMA's ideas put into action at Milstein Hall, the firm's addition to Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP). But the building lacks the intellectual heat of the exhibition, and turns out to be more polite and less polemical than you would think.

Asked to add 47,000 square feet to the architecture school—which already sprawled among an iconic 19th-century pile (Sibley Hall), an early-20th-century industrial building (Rand Hall), and the simple Foundry—OMA had to decide what to keep and what to erase. In typical OMA fashion, the firm did the opposite of what other architects had proposed. Instead of razing Rand, the school's ugly duckling, and creating a glowing Modernist cube for design studios in its place, as Steven Holl envisioned in his competition-winning scheme from 2001, OMA kept both old and new. The Berlin-based firm Barkow Leibinger, hired by Cornell in 2002 after the school split ways with Holl, also called for tearing down Rand while slipping in a long, bar-shaped building behind Sibley. That plan didn't go forward, either, and the school's dean at the time, Mohsen Mostafavi, helped bring in Koolhaas in 2006.

Instead of imagining a freestanding structure, OMA saw its addition as a horizontal box connecting Sibley and Rand and reaching out toward (but not quite touching) the Foundry. “Architects have become obsessed with iconic buildings,” states Koolhaas. “But we wanted to create something mysterious.” Although his building mostly hides behind its older siblings, flashing just a modest glass corner to the Arts Quad, the university's historic heart, it is hardly a shy piece of design. An enormous steel-truss structure that stretches 195 feet by 170 feet on its second floor and cantilevers 50 feet over University Avenue to the north, it creates a new gateway to this part of campus and orients the architecture school to views of Fall Creek Gorge. So Koolhaas may talk big about playing quietly, but his building certainly makes itself heard.

Inside their big steel box, Koolhaas, Shigematsu, and associate-in-charge Ziad Shehab sculpted a poured-concrete dome to enclose a two-story-high crit room. A concrete bridge slices through the 5,200-square-foot space, leading to an auditorium where many of the seats cling to the outer surface of the dome, and a large curtain by Petra Blaisse wraps around a glazed upper level to block daylight when needed. “We talked a lot about the permanent warfare between the box and the blob,” says Shigematsu, “so we decided to bring them together in this building.”

Visitors enter Milstein on the middle floor and can look into the crit space one level down or go up one flight to the 25,000-square-foot “plate” that provides one uninterrupted space for graduate and undergraduate studios. A covered passage between the new building and Sibley offers students an outdoor place to congregate, park their bikes, and peek into the auditorium, which, like the crit space, is sunk one level below grade. Oversize coffers made of pressed white aluminum adorn the underside of the great studio box that covers the passage, adding a sly Postmodern touch to go along with the new internal dome, which echoes Sibley's exterior one, and Blaisse's curtain, referencing 17th-century architectural prints.

Figuring that more is never a bore, OMA employs three different vocabularies: the Miesian box, the organic blob, and the Postmodern aside. The firm generates some lively conversation among the three, but it never resolves them into a properly integrated building. This failing is most clear just inside the entry, where a steel column from the big box stands smack in the middle of the curving concrete bridge. Koolhaas and his gang clearly enjoy such messy collisions, but these moments reveal a lack of intellectual rigor.

Although it doesn't hold together as a truly cohesive piece of architecture, Milstein offers a number of wonderful spaces—from the crit room that “occupies the dome” to the auditorium that climbs the outside of it. The enormous studio plate works beautifully in bringing together the school's 16 different studios and opening them up to the views of the gorge. The floor-to-ceiling glazing around the box also opens the architecture school to the rest of the university, providing a degree of transparency that didn't exist before, says Dean Kent Kleinman.

Earlier plans for Milstein juxtaposed old and new buildings, but OMA's design fuses them together with a giant plate that flows from one structure to another to another. This inclusive approach seems to work well for the students learning here, but hardly represents the radical critique of historic preservation that one might expect from Koolhaas and his associates.

Office for Metropolitan Architecture
180 Varick Street, Suite 1328
New York, NY 10014, USA
T +1 212 337 0770
F +1 212 337 0771

Location: Ithaca, NY

Completion Date: October 2011

Gross square footage: 47,000 sq. ft.

Total construction cost: The university trustees approved a $55.5 million life-of-project budget for Milstein Hall which began in 2001. In addition to the actual construction of Milstein Hall, this budget includes work on Rand Hall (foundation, elevator, washrooms), Sibley Hall (foundation, air handling), the Foundry (roof), University Avenue, surface parking and area utilities, and support costs. The stand-alone new construction cost for Milstein Hall was approximately $37.6M.

Owner: Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP)


Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP)

Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)
180 Varick Street, Suite 1328
New York, NY 10014, USA
T +1 212 337 0770
F +1 212 337 0771

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Rem Koolhaas RA and Shohei Shigematsu

Associate-in-charge: Ziad Shehab RA

Team: Jason Long, Michael Smith, Troy Schaum, Charles Berman RA, Amparo Casani, Noah Shepherd RA

Architect of record:
KHA Architects, LLC
Team: Laurence Burns AIA, Jim Bash AIA, Brandon Beal, Michael Ta, Stephen Heptig AIA, Sharon Giles AIA

Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates, P.C.
MEP/FP: Plus Group Consulting Engineers PLLC
Civil Engineer ' Site Utilities: GIE Niagara Engineering Inc. P.C.
Civil Engineer ' Site and Grading: T.G. Miller P.C.

Acoustical Consultant: DHV V.B.
Façade Design and Engineering Consultant: Front, Inc.
Lighting Consultant: Tillotson Design Associates, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Scape Landscape Architecture PLLC
Curtain Design: Inside Outside, Petra Blaisse
Graphic/Wayfinding Design: 2x4, Inc.
Audio/Visual Consultant: Acentech
Roofing Consultant: BPD Roof Consulting, Inc.
Elevator Consultant: Persohn/Hahn Associates, Inc.
IT/Data/Security Consultant: Archi-Technology
Sustainability Consultant: BVM Engineering
Architectural Concrete Consultant: Reginald D Hough FAIA

General Contractor:

Renderer(s): OMA, ESKQ
CAD system, project management, or other software used: Cadvance, Digital Project, AutoCad, Rhinoceros



Structural system:
Cast in place concrete and steel frame

Exterior cladding:
Stone: Turkish marble
Metal Panels: Lamcel Metal Panels, Dramex expanded aluminum metal
Metal/glass curtain wall: Custom curtain wall at studio upper level, Kawneer

Green roofing: Sika Sarnafil Intensive Green Roof Waterproofing System

Glass: Viracon
Skylights: Kawneer

Glass and Aluminum doors: Kawneer
Sliding doors: Besam Doors
Fire-rated doors, security grilles: Hopes Doors

Interior finishes:
Ceilings: Custom design by OMA, Manufacturated Nelson Industrial Inc.
Paneling: Lamcel Metal Panels
Felt Wall covering: E.F. Walter Inc / Brand Felt Ltd.
Carpet: Bentley Prince Street
Raised flooring: Tate Flooring
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Stainless Steel cladding (toilet walls and electrical closet) Milgo/Bufkin

Fixed and Loose Auditorium seating: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by MARTELA OYJ
Operable Auditorium seating: Custom design by OMA, manufactured by Figueras International Seating
Chairs: Studios: Alfi Bieffe S.A., Critique space - Vitra
Tables: Studios: Formaspace
Curtains: Custom designed by Inside Outside, manufactured by Gerriets International
Shades: Mechoshades
Other furniture: Dome critique space moveable wall: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by Accufab, Inc.; Exterior Pod seating: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by Fproduct Inc.

Interior ambient lighting: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by Bartco Lighting, Custom Metalcraft
Downlights: Omega Lighting, Rambusch Lighting
Task lighting: Litelab
Exterior: Uplights for Rand and Sibley Façade: We-Ef
Auditorium Mullion Lights: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by YYZ
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron

Elevators: Schindler Elevators, Cab: Custom designed by OMA, manufactured by Global Tardif

Lacava, Grohe America, Kohler, American Standard, Filtrine, Willoughby Industries

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Passive Chilled Beams — Barcol-Air