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Cornell Picks Thom Mayne for First Tech Campus Building

By Amy Zimmer | May 9, 2012 10:10am

MANHATTAN — Cornell tapped Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis, to design its first academic building for its $2 billion 11-acre tech campus on Roosevelt Island, the university’s architect Gilbert Delgado announced Wednesday.

The 150,000-square-foot building, expected to be completed by fall 2017, will house the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, which will have teaching and faculty office space as well as space to facilitate “opportunities of chance encounters between people to exchange ideas,” according to Delgado. The building aims to be a net-zero energy structure — meaning it will create as much energy as it consumes — with geothermal and solar power.

“Our goal is to design an iconic, landmark building that will resonate with the mission and spirit of the new campus,” Delgado said in a statement.

Mayne, whose Cooper Union building has been turning heads at 41 Cooper Square, was selected from six well-known finalists, which included Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), which is designing One World Trade Center; Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which worked on the High Line and Lincoln Center’s renovation; and OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), founded by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

“This project represents an extraordinary opportunity to explore the intersection of three territories: environmental performance, rethinking the academic workspace and the unique urban condition of Roosevelt Island,” Mayne said in a statement.

“This nexus offers tremendous opportunities not only for CornellNYC Tech, but also for New York City.” 

The tech campus will be built out over roughly 30 years and house 2,500 students and nearly 300 faculty. Cornell is currently finalizing plans for a temporary campus — most likely in Manhattan — that will house the program starting in the fall and will operate for the next five years as eco-friendly buildings rise on the island.

Mayne is expected to deliver his first design drafts in November 2012 with a schematic design in March 2013.

Mayne is also designing Gates Hall, which is under construction at Cornell’s Ithaca campus. His famous buildings include the Caltrans District 7 headquarters in Los Angeles and the University of Cincinnati’s Campus Recreation Center. Morphosis also designed the San Francisco Federal Building, a 600,000 square-foot structure where 70 percent is naturally ventilated, setting a new standard for sustainability.

Rick Bell, the executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York chapter, praised Mayne's selection, saying the architect's designs "relate to the needs of people — how people use space and congregate."

"The stairs, for instance, at Cooper Union bring people together," Bell noted. "Caltrans could have been a bureaucratic fortress, but it's not. There's a place where people can gather in front. ... He thinks about people."