SPEAKER 1: So John, here we are on the President's Walk, headed down toward AD White's famous bench. And we're walking on top of a building. Yeah, the fact is there's a building underneath this area, and behind us is the Andrew Dixon White House.
You might not think of the AD White House as being part of the Arts Quad. But the trustees, in fact, acknowledged the fact that it was part and parcel of the Arts Quad when they decided, in the late '80s, to build Kroch Library underground, just behind us here. That preserved the open space that provides the connection between the AD White House, the Arts Quad, and the AD White bench beyond. So all these things do have some linkages in time and in space.
SPEAKER 2: Now we can only look forward to a recreation of the [INAUDIBLE] with a nice set of beautiful trees.
SPEAKER 1: If we could bring the elms back.
SPEAKER 2: Yes, why not? So here we are standing, what, 30 feet below where we were when we began this? And at Cornell, a building like this is extraordinarily important in order to preserve things like this wonderful walk and this avenue that AD White and his wife would take on down to the bench where we began this, now what seems like a rather long time ago.
Underground buildings are expensive. And yet, if you look at the campus plan as a whole, in many instances they really are the only way to preserve the integrity of the fabric, the spatial fabric of the campus plan.
SPEAKER 1: And what's remarkable about this building, too, is that, while it is underground, it does have a feeling of spaciousness and openness down here that is surprising. One of the things about having displays in here is you do have to control light. And one of the surprises in this building, in doing this grand space was that we actually got too much light in the skylights. And as a consequence, had to retrofit the skylights with these screens to diminish the daylight.
SPEAKER 2: I congratulate the University on its commitment to these kinds of buildings to preserve, you know, the important spaces here at Cornell. So John, here we are, looking at a wonderful art museum that IM Pei designed in the mid-'70s. And there's a story about Sam Johnson's desire to do what?
SPEAKER 1: Well, Sam Johnson, of course, is the son of Sam Johnson, Sr., the founder of Johnson Wax, who built the Johnson Wax building in Illinois with the help of Frank Lloyd Wright. And so Sam Johnson, Jr. wanted to do somewhat the same thing-- hire the preeminent American architect to do a building for Cornell. And up until this time, the art museum for the University was up in the Andrew Dickson White House. It needed a home. There was this site out here, one of the most beautiful sites on campus that had been occupied by Morris Hall, not the most preeminent building at Cornell. That burned down. Here is an opportunity in the mid-twentieth century to build a real landmark building at the crest of Libe Slope.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah, I think it's arguably so. I think this large cubic volume that anchors the northwest corner of the quad has received some very favorable, critical comments down through the years. It's, as you can see, on a site that really does command incredible views to the North, in fact, to the whole surrounding region. And this is probably the best place to understand Cornell's special location here in the midst of the Finger Lakes.
The massing is somehow typical Pei. IM Pei is truly one of the more important architectural figures of the middle, latter 20th century. And this building, I believe, is one of the better, if not one of the best examples of the work that he did during the middle '70s throughout the country and the world.
Architects are always very concerned about the issue of alignments. And in this case, there is an axis along the front, running east-west in front of Sidley Hall. And it aligns right on the entry of the Johnson museum. So as you make your way across the northern part of the Arts Quad, east to west, you really do [? enfront ?] the museum directly.
SPEAKER 1: And one of the features of that that obviously Pei was reaching for, is that there are these penetrations through the building that you can literally see through to the other side of the valley. And the building almost acts as a window or a frame for those views. Teamed up with IM Pei was Dan Kiley, landscape architect, another preeminent figure in design at that period. And he did the landscape design for Johnson museum. And the remarkable thing about it is that you would look at it and say, there's no landscaping around it. But that was his skill, to make the building stand comfortably on that site.
SPEAKER 2: There's a lot of discussion about whether this building works on this site. Clearly, it really does anchor this northwest corner of the site. It'll be interesting to see how Steven Hall's new Milstein Hall on the northeast coast corner of the site will also, then, create a point of emphasis on the northeast corner, so it will be a pair of buildings here that flank the north end of the Arts Quad. It will be an interesting kind of interplay to see develop.
So John, here we are looking at Rand Hall, which was where I spent nearly 15 years of my life as a student and then as a teacher of architecture. It's a building that was originally built in 1911 as a machine shop for the Sibley School of Engineering. And the Rand family graciously contributed the money. And there are two very large bronze plaques at the entry which memorialize the donors, the various members of the family who contributed the funds for it.
It's a building that served architecture well. It's sort of a playpen, studio space. And we have ambivalent feelings about it.
On the one hand, it allows us the liberty to do whatever we want with the building, because we're at liberty to sort of let the students do as they will. On the other hand, it's somewhere between decrepit and squalid inside. So many of us, for probably 30 years, have sought to persuade the University that we should have a new building. And fortunately we will get one.
About two years ago, there began a competition for an architect to design a new building for this site. After the competition was over, Stephen Hall was unanimously named the winner of the competition and is proceeding now to build a new architecture school on this site. It will have the name Milstein Hall after the donor. The building will be a large, cubic volume. Not as big perhaps as the Johnson art museum, which we just viewed, but will, I suppose, establish a presence on this northeast corner of the quad, not unlike the way the Johnson holds down the corner on the northwest.
Inside, it's a work in progress at the moment, as Stephen starts to develop the building. But basically, at its core, it's a whole series of studio spaces and review spaces that are open toward the inside. And it's wrapped with smaller spaces around the outside. Each of the facades has a different role to play in the building, according to its cardinal orientation.
SPEAKER 1: One of the things that we'll miss with Rand Hall gone is the paintings of the dragon in the windows. This is the site where the Green Dragon gets built each year and parades down East Avenue.
SPEAKER 2: So we'll look forward to seeing the building, which we should be up in about three years, I would think. Like many of the buildings on campus we've talked about to date, it's the subject of much debate and discussion. And the merits of the building are an ongoing conversation in the halls of the architecture school here. And we hope that it all leads to constructive ends as we go forward, as has been the case in all the other building battles that have gone on down through the years.
SPEAKER 1: Right.
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The story of the earliest days of Cornell University is about much more than the construction of buildings. The opinions and personalities of the men and women decision-makers, the political climate of the times, the financial health of the University, even the layout of the surrounding landscape all played a vital role in the formation of what we know today as the Cornell campus.
Join Kent Hubbell and John Ullberg as they relay some of the rich and fascinating stories behind the current day Arts Quad, home of Cornell's first structures, which today stand among a diverse collection of buildings representing many architectural styles.
This video is part 5 of 7 in the Ezra's Farmstead series.