Cornell Chooses Thom Mayne; SOM Forges Ahead with Master Plan

East, Newsletter
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
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Cornell has made an object-ive choice in Thom Mayne. (Brnandon Thomas / Flickr)

Cornell has made an object-ive choice in Thom Mayne. (Brnandon Thomas / Flickr)

Cornell University has named 2005 Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne as architect for the first building at its Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island called the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. The selection should overshadow some sour grapes that were emanating from Stanford in the past few days regarding their losing bid. Mayne bested an all-star list, including Rem Koolhaas of OMA, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, Steven Holl, and SOM. The choice of Mayne, whose iconic building 41 Cooper Square still jams traffic at Astor Place, hints that Cornell is looking for a traffic stopper of its own on the East River.

“It was a nice list; all the usual talent, but I knew we had a good shot,” said Mayne, on his way back to his second home base in LA, “because I could speak intelligently to their three main areas of interest: an innovative educational environment; connective urbanism; sustainability. I can walk the walk.”

Cornell is developing the site with a proposal prepared by SOM, but there was no mention of the that firm in today’s press release, though they remain the master planner for the project. Today’s announcement was all about the next step, with Cornell’s dean of architecture, art, and planning, Kent Kleinman praising  Morphosis: “No firm is better at turning constraints into creative solutions of astonishing power than Thom Mayne and Morphosis.”

As AN reported soon after the Mayor announced the winning bid, SOM’s ground work tried to establish that the main 150,000 square foot building would not only be a net-zero building, but, in the words of SOM principal Roger Duffy, “not be an object building.”

Mayne said that the first meetings on plan and program were only now taking place but he said that “nothing is fixed at this point; it needs to be open-ended.” The notion of a prescriptive master plan, he noted, went out with Victor Gruen in the 70s.

Morphosis will work with Arup as the engineer on the first building, which the team will design to meet a net-zero energy goal; James Corner is on board for landscape. The south end of the island could likely become an architectural playground, with more RFPs soon going out for the other Tech Campus buildings and the soon-to-be completed Four Freedoms Park by Louis Kahn.

Saying the project had come along at just the right moment, Mayne  enthused about the opportunities ahead: “The old campus was about the yard or the square. This wants a new paradigm, someplace that is both contained and not contained; simultaneously isolated and completely connected. I love those kind of dualities.”

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