Mark deShong, an Associate Principal at Koetter Kim & Associates in Boston, MA spoke with us about the design of the new Physical Sciences Building at Cornell University's main campus in Ithaca, NY. The 100+ million dollar project meets the criteria for a Silver Level LEED project and is just beginning construction. McCarthy Construction will be the contractor.
Cornell University was founded in 1865 and was opened in 1868 with Morrill Hall as its first building. The university sits on a hilltop overlooking Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes of central New York State and the campus now includes more than 260 major buildings on 745 acres surrounded by creeks, waterfalls, trails, arboretums and gardens. The Physical Sciences Building designed by Koetter Kim & Associates, when finished, will be an integral part of campus life.
As Mr. deShong explains, "The Physical Sciences building was designed over the last four years and the project initially did a series of examinations of locations to serve the clients' need for the program. It has support space for physics and various departments within the physics department, and additionally houses some program space for the chemistry and biology departments. Those buildings that surround the site that was ultimately chosen are Rockefeller Hall, Baker Hall and Clark Hall. The new building provides not only facilities for new labs, teaching classrooms and auditorium space, but it also provides research facilities, office spaces, and equally important, we think, is that it provides a common public space which is used by all four buildings: the new building, Rockefeller Hall, Baker Hall and Clark Hall. All are located adjacent to each other and are separated by a new interior atrium space. This new atrium space provides a public and civic function where people can get together and meet to have dialogues which help their research. There are places for them to gather with chalk boards in the background, and there is also a café in the atrium."
"The strategy not only was a programmatic strategy, but it was also an environmental strategy because the space between two of the buildings and the new building, which make the L-shaped atrium, also allows the building to have two facades which face a semi-climatized space, thereby limiting the exterior exposure to the severe climate in Ithaca. They have very strong winters and also summers, so by having the building face on two sides the semi-climatized space and controlled atrium space, it helps reduce some of the pressures to heat and cool the building in those tough seasons."
"In this case, the spaces that open up to the atrium are largely glass and an interior facing material. Acoustic materials which simulate the plaster and drywall of the interior space provide the added acoustical value required for a public space."
For the base of the exterior walls of the building, architects chose a stone called Llenroc (Cornell spelled backwards), a fieldstone material that is a local indigenous stone seen throughout the campus in old stacked stone walls. Mr. deShong explains, "It's a unit kind of masonry and each stone is a different shape, color and texture which gives a kind of a hand-hewn quality to a wall. It ties into the existing buildings nicely that way."
"Above the Llenroc base on the exterior, we have a double collapsed wall facing west and a metal panel wall facing south with sun screens to protect the glazing. A third side of this provides the new entrance to the complex, and a thoroughfare through the campus as a new pedestrian circulation route."
The wall is a cavity wall construction, commonly used in colder climates because of the layer of insulation between the two wythes of masonry. Cavity wall insulation is not only cost effective, but can reduce as much as 35% of the amount of heat lost from the convection off walls, making it more environmentally friendly.
"We are LEED architects, and we're environmentally sensitive to things, so we look at the ability to provide local materials, provide materials which are energy efficient, that are produced with minimal impact on the environment that don't off-gas or have petro-chemicals in them. The selection of materials is also driven by client input, in this case it was indigenous materials found on the campus. Those are the kinds of things we need to take into consideration, as well as relating the materials and their colors and textures to the context which the building sits within."
On the west side of the building, glass was the material of choice. "We evaluate materials based on their application and their individual use. There is such a wide range of conditions and it's important that the specific materials relate to those conditions. We chose glass for this wall largely because we wanted, on the west side of the campus, the building to be kind of an open element that could look out onto the arts and quads campus and Cayuga Lake beyond. The building also has a glass portico which allows for a transparency through which you can read the existing Baker portico and the architecture on the other corner with glass bays which are illuminated at night. The interior is illuminated which allows people to use this building as a beacon to find their way through the campus as an orientation piece."
"We're modern architects, but feel strongly that we have an obligation to serve the civic needs. Our self expression takes a back seat a need to have our buildings work for campus and city settings. It's important for architecture to relate strongly to the context, Fred Koetter and Susie Kim both believe that it needs to relate strongly to the context in which it works and operates. Our buildings are modern by nature, we're modern architects but at the same time we're sensitive to context. Urban design is fifty percent of our practice, institutional campus buildings are the majority of the other architectural side of what we do. We mostly work on college campuses, but we also do work for private sector corporate and other non-institutional entities."
Mr. deShong notes the challenges involved in designing the new Physical Sciences Building at Cornell. "There were incredible challenges, one being putting a building in the courtyard of three buildings and relating to them historically, contextually and logistically. The three buildings have to exit at fire exits, and there were utilities which ran through the courtyard and had to be relocated. Structurally, our building sits on top of a two-story vault space of the existing Clark Hall, so we had to thread structure through that vaulted space. That, along with logistically putting a fairly substantial building in the context of having it relate problematically to a complex situation and tie into all those existing program elements in a rational, logical manner was a big challenge. The budgets and schedules are normally everyday problems for us, but we met the budget and the schedule."
"We feel that the success of this project is largely due to a terrific team of both client, administrative, usergroup planning, design, construction facilities people and we believe that the team approach was extremely successful and the participation of everyone in a collaborative way was the success of the project." Cornell administration openness created a positive setting for dialogue, and they demonstrated great vision, while simultaneously Cornell Planning Design and Construction was also a very strong, qualified facilities group; working on an extremely significant campus.