Glasses of champagne and pear brandy by candlelight made the new New York City facilities of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning sparkle and glow at a preview reception Thursday, Jan. 19.
To the 150 or so trustees, alumni, faculty and friends gathered at the newly painted second-floor rooms at 50 W. 17th St., Dean Mohsen Mostafavi offered this toast: "Raise your glasses to the future of this space."
Following the toast, Mostafavi said, in conversation: "For a professional college like ours, it's critical to have a direct link with the best of contemporary practice. It's imperative for our students to be close to where things are happening and to get an opportunity to work with the best practitioners, whether they're architects, artists or planners."
The large, unfurnished, loftlike space -- about 5,500 square feet -- is an open studio with high ceilings and rows of tall windows. The space includes offices, a seminar room and a large area for lectures.
Although the college has rented space in New York City in the past, this is the first time that a plan is taking shape to use the facilities comprehensively to bring together students, faculty, alumni and other practitioners in the fields of architecture, art and planning for collaborations and the advancement of ideas.
"You can learn more easily through proximity and teach more easily through example," said the dean. He envisions students spending from a week to a semester making use of the new city space and being regularly introduced to different concepts that will enlarge their vision. He hopes they will draw inspiration from a broad range of visiting lectures and through ongoing visits to architectural offices and building sites, artists' studios, galleries and museums, and planning initiatives throughout New York City.
In addition, the 17th Street space offers opportunities for faculty development, such as collaborations with other educational institutions in the city, and joint conferences involving both Ithaca and New York City, said Mostafavi.
Finally, "We have a very strong alumni base working in the city as artists, architects, planners and educators, and we can provide a platform for conversations among them and with wider groups," he said.
Mostafavi also used Thursday's reception to announce that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the firm Rem Koolhaas helped to found, will be designing Milstein Hall, the college's new building on the Ithaca campus. The dean said that Koolhaas and his fellow partners in the firm will approach the project not merely as an isolated structure but one that unites the college's current buildings.
"Mohsen's a thinker who opens doors," said Provost Biddy Martin, who linked his decision to hold an event at the New York City facility before any programs were under way there with a similar one by Cornell's founder, Ezra Cornell. As Martin related at the reception, Cornell spoke in 1868 of the importance of emphasizing "commencement, not completion," when he welcomed students to Morrill Hall before its front doors were actually hinged and to White Hall when it was an unfinished shell.
As a Juilliard jazz trio played and people milled, munched on elegant appetizers and chatted at the reception, a continuous slide show of work by current Cornell art, architecture and planning students was projected on the surrounding white walls.
"It's exciting and impressive -- and a great opportunity for students to get exposure and have a place in a central location in a mega-city like New York," said Betty Eng '92.
"It's an opportunity to engage students with the business community," said Stephen Kiviat '63, B.Arch. '64.
"It could be spectacular for students and faculty, especially if there were a way to create the right kinds of relationships with, say, major architectural firms in the city," said Alan Chimacoff '63, B.Arch. '64.