[MUSIC PLAYING] JILL LERNER: I grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey, a suburb of New York. And I went to public high school, Metuchen High School. I was interested in art and science. Had no clue really what I wanted to do. Girls were not allowed to take mechanical drawing. I had to take home ec, where they only let me wash the dishes because I'm such a bad cook.
My guidance counselor, who I had never met before, sat and looked at my record, said, well, you should be an architect. And I had never considered that possibility. And decided to apply to a range of schools that had architecture and some that didn't. But I knew that if I got into an architecture school I would go. And when I went to Cornell, it was clear that day that this is what I wanted to do. And I had a chance to do it as an undergrad, this is what I really wanted to do.
My major extracurricular focus was dance. And I was a very serious dancer. So my decision to go to architecture school was really a decision not to be a professional dancer.
Cornell was great from the day I got there. We had a memorable talk by Werner our first day, I think it was. And it was about how if you wanted to do anything else, you should leave now. If you wanted to make money, you should leave now. And if you wanted to do anything else on campus other than architecture, you should leave now.
But you know, a lot of us ignored that advice, myself included. And I continued to dance, which was always something I took tremendous pleasure in doing. And I danced with the Ithaca Dancemakers while I was in Ithaca. And I worked quite closely with Saga Ambegaokar. I was very fortunate to work with her as a choreographer.
SAGA AMBEGAOKAR: I knew Jill Lerner when she was an undergraduate at Cornell University. And she came and danced with us, which was then the Ithaca Dancemakers. As we became friends, I realized that this woman could do anything. And she had always wanted to be an architect. And she was going to be an architect. Although she was doing so well in dance, we didn't want to pressure her.
We did often wonder, in fact, how Jill had all the time because every time we turned around there was five minutes or something Jill was in the corner with her legs spread out in the second position. She was in the corner with her head in some graph that she had to hand in couple of hours. We would have a two-hour rehearsal or a three-hour rehearsal with some breaks for everybody. And that's how she works. And sometimes at night, at 11:00 at night, when everyone else went home, Jill went back to the laboratory and finished her drawings.
JILL LERNER: It was very intense. You know, it's like being in your own small club being in architecture, especially freshman year. And everyone, you know, there's tremendous camaraderie within the drafting room. And just a wonderful experience. The kind of place that breeds friendships that last for life.
SUSAN BRESLER: Jill was one of the people who knew everyone because Jill always reached out. She was friendly. She was outgoing. She would volunteer for things that needed to be done.
She was a dancer at the time also, so she was also committed A percent of her time to that. But she could always be counted on to be the person that would be there if you needed help, if you needed an extra hand, if the class needed something. You know, Jill combined a determination and a sweetness and a just niceness of character that made her a favorite among people. And people tended to gravitate to circles where she was because she was both an easy person to be with and a fun person to be with.
ANN MARION: And I met Jill almost my first day of school. We are we were both in the same sculpture class. And Jill and I took to each other right away. And we were friends for the next four years.
Then, sophomore year both of us lived in an arts dormitory, Risley. In our junior and senior year, Jill and I lived together in a house down the hill from Cornell. Jill in college was a wonderful energetic multi-tasking person. I was very impressed at how she was able to handle so many different things.
JILL LERNER: I was really determined that while I was there, I was going to try to get the best of Cornell. And I took or audited a lot of outside classes. I took astronomy with Carl Sagan. And I took Urie Bronfenbrenner's course. And I tried to take a lot. I took foreign policy or something like that with Walter Lefevre. And really tried to take a lot of the really good professors.
And I think that truly benefited-- that's something you just don't get to do for the rest of your life. I really do better when I do a lot of things.
BILL BINTZER: Jill is an incredibly energetic person, always busy, has always been busy. Since I knew her at Cornell, she was involved in everything. She had the lead role in the Japanese Noh play once that I went up and saw her in with the white makeup and the hair and the kimono and the whole deal. Just always active. Always moving. Always got a lot of balls in the air, irons in the fire, just an exciting person to be around.
EILEEN WEINGARTEN: Jill and I were freshmen roommates at Cornell. We lived in Dixon. And we lived together for the remaining four years too, either across the hall or in the same apartment. And she was just a great roommate, a great friend. She worked hard in all of her subjects. it wasn't like, well, I'll work hard on this and then take it easy on some other classes, which a lot of people did. She was very serious about everything. And she put a lot of effort into everything.
JILL LERNER: Well, I got criticized in juries just like everybody else. And I would say that was a really great training for contractors can yell at me. It doesn't faze me. And they also did the thing where they took the picture of the whole freshman class and poured water on us all. I don't know if they do that anymore.
Dragon day, that was really memorable. This intensity of how you're going to build this amazing thing. And how's it going to come together. And then when it does, you just can't even believe you're doing this weird thing that's been going on since, I don't know, 1912 or something like that. And when you read about it today, it's amazing that this tradition has really lasted.
It was interesting when we were looking at the design for Milstein Hall for the new building at Cornell. And I was in a committee group with Richard Meyer. And he said his first comment on the building design was, well, where are they going to build the dragon?
I was definitely plugged into the university though I think more than most architects, in both respects-- the dance world and in terms of the other courses I took to really get outside of architecture. That didn't mean I wasn't truly, truly committed to spending virtually every waking moment at Sibley.
When I graduated, I really wanted to, as I said, I really wanted to be in the real world. I wanted to do buildings. I wanted to build buildings. I wanted to be part of doing architecture on a bigger scale.
I joined KPF with the dual mission of helping to diversify the firm, but helping to move into fields with an equal level of design quality and design focus as KPF had already established in other building types. And we've produced a whole set of buildings that have been helped to diversify the firm. And I think put us on the map in terms of academic and institutional work. And that's something that KPF was really not thought of for those building types 10 years ago.
Now, I'm a managing principal here. I manage my own projects, but I'm also hands-on very involved from programming through schematics in terms of the programming and planning aspects of the building.
GENE KOHN: What has made our firm great and what really Jill, I think, signifies is the team effort. We're not about just individuals. We're about teams. And so we help each other. She brings you in early and makes you a team player. And she wants our advice our help. So if we win a big job, we all did it together. But I give Jill the most credit because we won it because she wasn't afraid to utilize the talent in the firm and the skills and other people.
BILL PEDERSEN: I believe the first project that we worked together was for the Baruch College. I recall Jill giving perhaps one of the most succinct and brilliant and dynamic presentations of her responsibilities and her interest in working on an academic building.
JILL LERNER: In 1999, I was made a principal at the firm. And throughout my time at KPF, I have really worked closely with both Gene Kohn and Bill Pederson to help us move into these other fields and to produce buildings that we are really proud to have in our portfolio.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Huntsman Hall at Wharton Business School for the University of Pennsylvania. The Chapman School of Business for Florida International University in Miami. NYU School of Law in Greenwich Village. And University of Michigan, Ross School of Business. The Weinberg building for the University of Maryland Medical System.
BILL PEDERSEN: You know, nothing is too difficult for her. And nothing really seems to be a burden. You know? She just enjoys what she's doing. And whether it's the responsibility of giving a major talk someplace, I mean, she's the first one to volunteer for it. And frankly, she just drags me into a lot of stuff that I was like reluctant to get involved in. And every time I do it, I am happy that I've done it.
JILL LERNER: KPF was very, very supportive of outside interests. And I became more interested in doing things for the larger architectural community. That included Cornell. It included involvement with the AIA. It included being involved with New York New Visions after 9/11. And a whole range of outside interests, which have I think benefited me and the firm, but have also been just a wonderful way of giving back to the community.
A few years ago, the AIA chapter put my name forward for recognition as a fellow. I was thrilled to be selected to be FAIA. It was an exciting moment, I think. Had that graduation feeling about it.
GENE KOHN: What I also admire about Jill, she's been able to keep her family life strong and important. Her kids come first. Her husband comes first. But she's been able to do that-- be a great mother and wife-- and at the same time be a fantastic partner to all of us.
WILL BINTZER: When I need her, she's always there.
LAURA BINTZER: She has such a strong maternal instinct. And she'll always put her family first, no matter where she is.
WILL BINTZER: She's a good mom.
LAURA BINTZER: She's a very good mom.
JILL LERNER: So at Cornell I had never set foot on the campus after I graduated until we went back for my husband's reunion. He was class of '73, for his 25th reunion. And somehow going back I just suddenly realized what had changed, what hadn't changed, and how much a part of me-- what Cornell had really given me. What that whole experience had given me.
And the crossover between the identity people feel for Cornell, whether they're involved or not actually, and my professional life is just really striking. And I've become much more aware of it over the last five years.
Many of our close friends, closest friends, they're all Cornell friendships. And I really think that the bonds that you develop at Cornell, that both of us have developed at Cornell, have given us largely a tremendous base of friends, both professional friends and family friends.
MARK STRAUSS: That Cornell bond that began 30 years ago was really what started it all. And as we both moved from one place to the next, not only physically, but spiritually as we sort of found our way navigating the Cornell experience, navigating the sort of work and family experience, and navigating our continued professional activities in New York architecture world.
DOUG HOCKING: And it's interesting having such a wonderful women like Jill to work with up at Kohn Pederson Fox, but our connection goes deeper beyond work. It's really about Cornell and what Cornell means to us and to our families. I find that the connection that I have with Jill is special because we share both a work environment and the history of Cornell, so to speak. And that allows us to communicate as architects sort of with a similar language base, but also I think our foundation in terms of how we view architecture, how we view the process of solving problems in architecture in a similar vein with each other.
And so although we do different things at work, I'm more on the design side, and she is more on the design management or managerial side of architecture, it allows us to develop a rapport I think that might be more difficult if we didn't share the base of Cornell and Cornell architecture in this case.
JILL LERNER: Then Porus asked me if I would chair of the committee. And I thought that would be a pretty fun, but effortless sort of a thing. And it turned out that three weeks after he asked me to do that, President Rawlings decided he wanted to disband the college. And so I was sort of thrust, I would say, into being one of the point people who was responsible to transmit what had been meaningful about going to a college of architecture, art, and planning, all three disciplines together. And how that impacted many, many careers over many decades. And why it was still valuable and relevant today and perhaps even more relevant today.
Every involvement I've had with Cornell has been a tremendously rewarding experience. And I think there is no group of people that-- I think that's the hook for me is that it's always intellectually stimulating to go up there, whether I'm talking to students, faculty, administrators, trustees, doesn't matter. At every level, it's intellectually challenging and interesting. And I think that's really the ongoing gift of Cornell.
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This video features Cornell-educated architect and University Trustee Jill Lerner '75, B Arch '76, a Principal at the architectural firm, Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects (KPF.)
Created in honor of her 30th Reunion in June 2005, the video is illustrated with vintage photos of Jill's days on the hill, her friends in college, and her dance performances. Jill is heard describing why she selected Cornell, telling about her years as an architecture student as well as a serious dance student and performer, and explaining her work at KPF.
Her story is interspersed with brief commentary from Cornell classmates and friends, her family, and from founding KPF Principals, Gene Kohn and Bill Pedersen. Additionally, Jill describes why her Alma Mater has come to play such a significant role in her life in recent years and her election to the Cornell Board of Trustees for a four year term starting in July 2005.
Produced by Phil ('62, B.Arch. '64) and Maddy ('65) Handler, Fly on the Wall Productions.