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.

'Cow comfort' gets mentioned a lot at the dairy barn, where cows produce an average of 97 pounds of milk per animal per day. Comfort is crucial to the barn's mission: to support dairy-cattle husbandry and food supply veterinary medicine (which comprises everything from infection control to food safety and public health). It is also implicit to the barn's design by Philadelphia's Erdy McHenry Architecture. An earlier campus dairy barn was razed in 2008; the new facility opened in September 2012 to provide hands-on training for students at the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Whether beautiful design also makes for happier cows is up for debate, but the barn is gorgeous.

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

Erdy McHenry Architecture, LLC
915 North Orianna Street
Philadelphia, Pa 19123
Ph: 215-925-7000
Fax: 215-925-1990

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:        
Scott A. Erdy, AIA, LEED, AP – Principal
David S. McHenry, AIA, LEED AP – Principal
Mark Miller, RA – Associate
Project Team: Alexandra Brinkman, Kyle Robinson, Patrick Stinger

MEP Engineer:
AKF Engineers, LLP
1500 Walnut St # 1400
Philadelphia, PA 19102-3515

Structural Engineer:
The Harman Group
900 West Valley Forge Rd.
Ste. 200
King of Prussia, PA  19406

Civil Engineer:
T.G. Miller, P.C.
230 North Aurora Street
Ithaca, NY  14850

Studio Bryan Hanes
340 North 12th Street, Ste. 421
Philadelphia, PA  19107

Dairy: 5G Consulting
6355 Lamar Avenue
Reno, TX  75462

General contractor:
250 North Genesee Street
Montour Falls, NY 14865

Halkin Mason Photography
915 Spring Garden St., Studio 215
Philadelphia, PA 19123

CAD system, project management, or other software used: Informatix Micro GDS (CAD system)


43,000 square feet (gross)


$5.8 million

Completion date:

September 2012




Structural system
Wood Frame

Starwood Rafters: Long-span Ply-Lam Trusses

Fingerlakes Construction Co.: Conventional Truss supports

Exterior cladding
Oneonta Block Company: Regular and Smooth Face Charcoal Masonry Units

Metal Panels:
Weatherbest Roofing and Siding: Metal wall and roof panels

Moisture barrier:
H&C Concrete Stain

Other cladding unique to this project:
Sun-North Systems, Inc.: Nova-Lite Operable Wall Panels

GEA Farm Technologies: Auto-vent Curtain System

Weatherbest Roofing and Siding: Metal wall and roof panels

Metal frame:
EFCO Series 433 Storefront: Thermally Broken Window Frames

Syracuse Glass Company: Tempered and Insulated Glazing Units

Pilkington: Float Glass

Vetrotech Saint-Gobain: Fire-Rated Window System

Glasteel: Acrylit Skylight Panels

Insulated-panel or plastic glazing:
PolyGal USA: Polycarbonate Glazing Panels

Metal doors:
Commercial Door Systems: A200 Series Door, 2400 Series Frames

Fire-control doors:
Fire-Rated Door Frames: De La Fontaine

Upswinging doors, other:
Bi-Fold Overhead Doors: Schweiss Bi-Fold Doors

Locksets: Sargent

Closers: Sargent

Exit devices: Sargent

Other special hardware:
Hinges: McKinney

Kickplates, Door stops and Silencers: Ives

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Armstrong Ceiling Systems: Optima Open Plan tegular tiles

Suspension grid:
Armstrong Ceiling Systems: Suprafine XL exposed tee system

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Rochester Custom Millwork, LLC

NUDO Fiberlite Functional Panels: FRP wall panels
Palram AG-TUF: Indoor corrugated PVC liner panels
Nuform Building Technologies, Inc.: Reline interlocking plastic wall panels

Plastic laminate:
Nevamar Decorative Surfaces

Resilient flooring:
Armstrong VCT

Chairs: by Owner

Tables: by Owner

Interior ambient lighting:
Cooper Lighting: 22” Prolume, FMS12CR corrosion resistant industrial fixture

Luminis: Syrios cast aluminum downlight

Cooper Lighting: McGraw-Edison ISW Impact Elite Wedge

Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Wattstopper: photo-sensors, wall switch sensors, ceiling sensors and lighting control unit

Garaventa Wheelchair Lifts:  Genesis Vertical Lift

Zurn Industries: EcoVantage Ultra Low Consumption Water Closets and Urinals

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
DeLaval: Complete Milking Parlor and Cooling System and associated equipment

GEA Farm Technologies: Single-Beam Cow Stall System