Ithaca, New York


The natural environment of the Cornell campus is startling,' says Thom Mayne, of Morphosis, about the gorge-riven and forested terrain of the 149-year-old university in Ithaca, New York. So is his recently completed Bill & Melinda Gates Hall. The 101,500-square-foot structure perches like a giant metal bird on a sloping site near the historic center of the Ivy League institution. With this facility for the combined departments of the Faculty of Computing and Information Science, the architects placed a rectilinear volume on the southwest corner of the narrow 60,000-square-foot site, then mounted feathery stainless-steel perforated panels on its long north and south elevations and across the upper west facade. On this short end facing the street, Morphosis carved out the first two floors, creating a deep, partially cantilevered overhang for an entry plaza slightly elevated above grade. The sheltering arced soffit is clad in orange metal, giving it a sunlike vibrancy that is 'so helpful in fighting depression in the winter's dark, gray, snowy days,' says project principal Ung-Joo Scott Lee, who should know: he was once a student on this northern campus.

The deeply projecting top floors rest on two steel columns covered in precast concrete. A jumble of precast-concrete shards lies at the columns' base: they serve no real function but evoke the rocky topography of the gorges. The architects had originally planned that the shards and columns would be clad in the indigenous Llenrock limestone found in many of the university buildings. But budget concerns intruded, and the footings turned out to be light concrete. Someday, ivy and leafy plants may cover the shards so they become part of the landscape. But now they look like giant talons spreading out from the bird-leg columns.

Eventually, too, another entrance will open on the south elevation overlooking a baseball field, which, according to the 2008 campus master plan, will be transformed into a three-sided quad for Gates and two new engineering buildings. Because of a grade change, the entrance for the five-story building would be accessed at the lower level, where a 151'seat lecture hall is located.

The main entrance opens onto a skylit atrium, 54 feet high, with orange fritted glass on the north and east. 'With the atrium and glass, the daylight and openness, we can feel connected to the various departments and people,' says Kavita Bala, a professor of computer science. 'It's a big difference in the quality of life for the students.' (Information-science students used to be stuck in rented spaces at the edge of the campus, while computer-science students were crammed into nearby engineering buildings.)

Behind the glazed atrium and stairwell is a rectangular block for teaching and research functions''an efficient chassis,' says university architect Gilbert Delgado. The volume houses labs, offices, conference and seminar rooms, informal lounges, and open collaboration spaces for the 500 undergraduate majors and 350 graduate students to come together. 'This is the workhorse,' says Mayne. 'The entrance and atrium are the architecture.' In creating the plan, a simple U shape with double-loaded corridors, the architects gently splayed and angled the walls along the hallways to inject a spatial dynamic into an otherwise formulaic grid.

Considering that Mayne and his firm Morphosis are currently designing the highly touted Academic Building for the Cornell NYC Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, in New York (to be completed in 2017), the opening of Gates Hall can be seen as a dry run. Both are devoted to computer technology and information systems'and both emphasize a fluidity of space to foster spontaneous interaction, communication, and collaboration'but the buildings' overall partis differ. As Mayne explains it, the design for the Roosevelt Island structure results from the commitment to create a net zero building, which determined the placement of an expansive roof of photovoltaics over a broad, open plan.

Although Gates is not energy-neutral, it is seeking LEED Gold status through the use of high-performance fritted and clear glazing, and the perforated metal feathers, which help reduce solar loads on the elongated south elevation in particular. In addition, Gates relies on radiant floors and a chilled-beam passive convection system, not to mention recycled and renewable building materials. But the design also was shaped by the constricted lot and the desire to give drama and an identity to this rather dead part of the Cornell campus'and with a tight construction budget ($425 a square foot).

While Cornell has a number of commendable 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, including Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Collegiate Gothic styles, the postwar modernist period'which went on too long'left the campus with a slew of mediocre buildings, the engineering quad included. Gates Hall easily sparks up its dreary hodgepodge setting. There it sits, an economical, muscular, yet strangely elegant structure, like an abstract bird of prey with gleaming feathers, a radiantly colored neck, staunch legs, and very scary claws.


Client: Cornell University

Morphosis Architects

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Morphosis Team
Design Director
Thom Mayne

Project Principal
Ung-Joo Scott Lee

Project Manager
Ung-Joo Scott Lee

Project Architect
Ted Kane

Project Designer
Jean Oei

Project Team
Cory Brugger
Debbie Chen               
Paul Choi
Nicolas Fayad
Kerenza Harris
Alayne Kaethler
Edmund Ming-Yip Kwong
Matt Lake
Simon McGown
Go-Woon Seo
Nicholas Shrier
Satoru Sugihara
Suzanne Tanascaux

Project Assistants
Vivian Chen
Stuart Franks
Jeff Gilway
Graham Gordon
Penny Herscovitch
Pavlo Kryvozub
Kyung-Eun Lee
Nicole Meyer
Shin Young Park
Yu-Jin Sim
Alan Tai

Jasmine Park
Josh Sprinkling
Sam Tannenbaum

Thornton Tomasetti

MEP/ Fire Protection:
Syska Hennessy Group

Barton & Loguidice, P.C.

Landscape Architect:
Barton & Loguidice, P.C. with Morphosis Architects

Davis Langdon

Cost Estimator:
Davis Langdon

Thornton Tomasetti

John P. Stopen Engineering, LLP

Syska Hennessy Group

Shen Milsom Wilke

Shen Milsom Wilke

Code Consultants Professional Engineers, P.C.

Construction Specifications

Construction Team:
Construction Management:

General  Contractor

Roland Halbe
Böheimstraße 45
70199 Stuttgart
Phone: +49 711 6074073

Project cost:

 $60 million

Construction cost:

$42 million


101,500 gross square feet

Completion date:

January 2014



Structural system
- Structural steel: Schenectady Steel Co, Inc

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Schenectady Steel Co. – Structural Steel

Exterior cladding
Coordination and Implementation of Exterior Cladding Systems:
W&W Glass, LLC

Metal Panels:
Zahner (Perforated Stainless Steel Panels)

Metal/glass curtain wall:
YKK EUW 750XT 4 sided SSG Unitized Curtain Wall system

Precast concrete:
Southside Precast Products

Moisture barrier:

Carlisle TPO roofing

Viracon VNE 24-63

Wasco Products Inc.

Interior Glass Flooring:

Interior Glass Curtainwall:
Viracon Optiwhite

CR Laurence

Glass doors:
CR Laurence

Metal doors:
Kelley Bros

Sliding doors:
Besam Curved Entry Slider Door

Fire-control doors, security grilles:


Assa Abloy

Exit devices:
Assa Abloy


Interior finishes
Paints and stains:

3 Form Ceiling Panel

Plastic laminate:
Formica Color Core 2

Solid surfacing:

Interface Equilibrium Carpet Tile

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Suspended Ceilings:
Lindner Welded Wire Mesh Ceiling

Auditorium Acoustic Wall and Ceiling Panel:
Topperfo Clou

Office furniture:
Herman Miller

Reception furniture:
Quinze & Milan (Lobby Furniture)

Fixed seating:
Theater Solutions Inc Planar Chair

Vitra, Herman Miller

Wilkhahn, Herman Miller

Interior ambient lighting:
Cooper Lighting

Cooper Lighting


Dimming System or other lighting controls:


Water fountains:



Energy management or building automation system:

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Swegon Chilled Beams