Third time's the charm: Milstein Hall back on track

The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) is the third architectural firm chosen to take on the Milstein Hall project for Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP).

"The project has had a checkered past," AAP Dean Mohsen Mostafavi said in an interview prior to the unveiling of Milstein Hall plans Sept. 19. "It started as a building primarily for the Department of Architecture and [was seen] as something of a replacement for Rand and fulfilling some new needs."

The project was initially funded in 2000 by a $10 million gift from New York City developer and philanthropist Paul Milstein and his family. In a design competition held in 2000-01, Steven Holl Architects of New York submitted the winning proposal -- a $25 million, seven-story cube, with an all-glass northern face overlooking the Fall Creek gorge.

"There wasn't agreement between the university and the architect. … There came a point when it was agreed this wasn't going to work here," Mostafavi said.

In 2002, Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin proposed "a long, narrow linear building" on the site of the Sibley parking lot; it was still being debated when Mostafavi was appointed dean in April 2004.

"There wasn't unanimous support for the project then," he said. "We had to take certain actions on something we could all unite behind."

The idea of replacing Rand Hall, built in 1912, was set aside in favor of adding "a collegewide building, with a majority of it dedicated to architecture," Mostafavi said. "The consensus was, we didn't want Rand to be demolished. With certain levels of modification, it could work very well. The plans for its intended demise were aesthetic. It could be made more sustainable, with high ceilings, studio space and big windows."

There also was the issue of "the precious quality of available land for construction," he said. "We had the idea we could provide for additional buildings."

The OMA plan does that, he said, and "takes into account potential future improvements to Sibley."

The plan also allows for a great deal more space for AAP faculty offices, studios and multiple, flexible uses, Mostafavi said -- a net gain of about 10,000 square feet over the previous plans. Part of that will be gained by moving the library from Sibley Dome to Milstein.

Rem Koolhaas and OMA entered the picture in 2005, after Koolhaas visited to give a lecture on his work. The long-delayed project has been on a fast track, going through several Cornell committees and advisory groups in the eight months since OMA was named as designer in January.

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