Ithaca, New York
Cow no. 1026 approaches a yellow-bristled electric back scratcher at Cornell University's Teaching Dairy Barn in Ithaca, New York. The round brush begins to rotate and roll over her body and apparently makes her feel great: clean, contented, and itch-free, which results in her ability to produce more milk. A neighbor waits for her turn.
Sited on the eastern edge of the campus, on a ridge near an old-growth forest, the wood-frame building is not out of place in its rural setting'this is farm country, and barns abound. But the architects played with the vernacular form, elongating and extruding the rectangular volume and adding a torqued wing for the milking parlor. 'The barn's shape is meant to take advantage of the natural topography, and also the prevailing winds,' says principal Scott Erdy. 'After the wind comes through the barn, it is filtered through the woods. There is no smell in this dairy barn.' Other moves make the structure stand apart. Skylights punctuate the ribbed metal roof, and on mild days, visitors can see into the mostly open-sided barn. 'It was fun to work with the requirements of a dairy barn and express them architecturally,' says Erdy.
Cornell has no shortage of signature architecture, from its Gothic towers to OMA's Milstein Hall. The dairy barn needed to be a 'piece of architecture' in part because of its gateway placement at one edge of campus, says university architect Gilbert Delgado. Those involved in running the facility, however, were skeptical: they insisted that no fancy architecture was needed'just a dairy barn. 'We were in a tough position,' says Erdy, who laughs recalling how his team navigated both desires, one of them strongly opposed to anything with strange angles. Gerald Lewis, the barn's supervisor and a lifelong dairy farmer, says the barn works perfectly for his purposes.
The interior features two main spaces: the freestall barn, where the cows can roam, eat, and sleep, and the milking parlor, which students observe from a second-story classroom. As Delgado says, 'The milking process has an expressive schematic. The form is born out of that purpose.' The most striking feature of the freestall barn'the 'wow factor,' as Lorin Warnick, the associate dean for veterinary curriculum, calls it'is its openness and grand ceiling with a wood truss system. An offset roof peak with a clerestory helps with air circulation and brings in daylight. Stalls are pushed to the sides of the barn (at capacity, it can hold 200 cows), and are filled with a soft, cool sand mixture.
What looks simple belies intricate planning and mechanics'from the system of gates that is used to control the flow of the cows to and from the milking parlor, to the length of the stalls. These details were part of the architects' learning process. Erdy describes an initial design that, if built, wouldn't have allowed the motorized manure scraper to reach the manure-holding pit. 'These guys were furious with us!' he recalls. The architects also had to include an imperceptible detail: the barn floor slopes 1 percent toward the manure-holding pit to let wastewater run out.
The barn is on track to receive LEED Silver, a great example for the local industry, says Warnick. Cornell students have welcomed the facility, requesting that more classes be held on-site. And the cows are so content that they now need to be milked three times a day. As Delgado told the architects, 'You guys really got under the skin of what being a cow is all about.'
Owner: Cornell University – College of Veterinary Medicine
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Dairy: 5G Consulting
CAD system, project management, or other software used: Informatix Micro GDS (CAD system)
43,000 square feet (gross)
Starwood Rafters: Long-span Ply-Lam Trusses
Fingerlakes Construction Co.: Conventional Truss supports
Other cladding unique to this project:
GEA Farm Technologies: Auto-vent Curtain System
Pilkington: Float Glass
Vetrotech Saint-Gobain: Fire-Rated Window System
Insulated-panel or plastic glazing:
Upswinging doors, other:
Exit devices: Sargent
Other special hardware:
Kickplates, Door stops and Silencers: Ives
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Tables: by Owner
Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
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