OMA´s Milstein Hall in Danger, and so is the AAP Program at Cornell

As the Milstein Hall at Cornell (designed by , project lead by partner Shohei Shigematsu) was getting the finals approval´s by the City of Ithaca, a strong opposition coming from non-architectural faculty members (arguing a provocative and setting-discording design, high budget, and that the planned project has standard LEED rating instead of Gold) is not only putting the project in danger, but also their architectural program at the AAP.

Their B.Arch (ranked #1 during 2008 in the US for architectural programs) and their MArch (ranked #6) could see an end, as their accreditation depends on their facilities: The NAAB has warned us for over a decade, and have explicitly stated that the last accreditation we got is the FINAL one they will grant without compliant facilities. They have just denied us an accreditation review for our new M.Arch 1 program this spring because of delays to the final approval process. When they return next year, they plan to review both the M1 and B.Arch programs — if we don’t have a building in process at that point, the B.Arch will LOSE its accreditation, and the M1 will be denied the same.

The above statement was taken from an email circulating the community, posted at Archinect. Read the complete e-mail after the break:

UPDATE: The original author of the letter just added the original version on the comments.

Hi — we’ve just learned that a few members of the University, supported by a few alumni and who knows whom, have made a motion to the faculty senate to stop Milstein Hall. This, after we just received the final approval for proceeding with construction.

These faculty members cite concern over the university’s budget, the fact that the design so far is not a gold Leeds rating, and (the real reason for some of these folks, who have been fighting us every step of the way), the design. Against the latter, they cite Sage & Lincoln hall as exemplars of ‘context-sensitive’ design. (You might recall the corporate, pseudo-gothic-victorian pastiche that served as additions to the business and music schools).

In their vocal publicity efforts, the faculty group and their few supporters are giving the university and Ithaca community the impression that this is the opinion of many of our alumni. Having broadcast their views to various media outlets, and now to the full faculty senate, they want the University to stop the building, and for Arch. go back to the dwg boards to create a cheaper, more ‘contextual’ design.

Even before debating the uninformed opinions noted above, I should point out what any delay at this point would mean. THe NAAB has warned us for over a decade, and have explicitly stated that the last accreditation we got is the FINAL one they will grant without compliant facilities. They have just denied us an accreditation review for our new M.Arch 1 program this spring because of delays to the final approval process. When they return next year, they plan to review both the M1 and B.Arch programs — if we don’t have a building in process at that point, the B.Arch will LOSE its accreditation, and the M1 will be denied the same.

As you can imagine, losing accreditation will be catastrophic. Enrollment will decline precipitously, students will transfer out, operating budgets will decline in turn, and our hard-won reputation will be tarnished irreparably. Very few schools sink to this depth, and no one will stop to ask the reasons for us osing accreditation. The word on the street will be that something is very wrong at Cornell. Our hard-won efforts in the new grad programs will be crushed — it took us 4 years to build the M1 program to #4 standing against wealthier and long-established Ivy-peers. Imagine how long it would take to disperse the stigma of failure.

If you disagree with the opinions stated above — and with the representation of Architecture alumni opinions — please help us make countering views known. The well-being, if not survival, of our design programs depends on quick and vociferous response (the Senate meeting is scheduled for this Wed.).

To help, please do 1 of the following as soon as possible:

1. Send a letter to the editor of local media outlets.
- Cornell Daily Sun:
- Cornell Chronicle:
- Ithaca Journal:
- Ithaca Times:
- News10 Now:

2. Post your online comments to articles already written. Go to the article and add your comments where indicated at the end of the page.
-Cornell Daily Sun:
– Ithaca Journal:

I’ve attached a letter by some of our colleagues in AAP and on campus protesting Milstein Hall to the Cornell Sun. I’ve also attached 2 responses, one by an Arch. grad student (draft form), another by a Cornell prof on campus (copied below). Zachary’s letter offers a good, brief rebuttal for the budget and Leeds arguments by Architecture’s opponents. Your letter need not be long & time-consuming — Adrian Lewis’s letter below is just a couple of paragraphs.

Please forward this message to others you think may want to contribute. We urgently need your help, and the more response the better.

Cite: Basulto, David. "OMA´s Milstein Hall in Danger, and so is the AAP Program at Cornell" 12 Feb 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • luz

    Oh please! Cry me a river!!! How about listening to the folks!?? They just might have a point! not to mention the right to reject such project…So they don’t like it and feel it’s not site specific, guess what! It’s not!!! Once again we see ideology prevailing over common sense…As “progressive architects” we often disconnect from society and some how counsel ourselves in believing it’s a good thing!!

    Cornel-Listen to those who this article portrays as ‘neo-Classical Nazi’s'! in this case, they have a point! Take a hard look at OMA’s proposal and try to forget that Rem Koolhaas was involved… you might find your oppostions’ point!

  • ZTN

    I noticed that this post references a letter I have written, which was not attached as mentioned. The content of the letter is copied below.

    When Milstein Hall became a reality last week after receiving final construction approval from the City of Ithaca, disturbing calls for the project’s halt began. The arguments range from the University’s current fiscal woes, to concerns about LEED rating, to protests on the grounds of aesthetics. Milstein Hall has become a scapegoat for the university community’s anxieties, which are not trivial. However, the University gains little by halting this project, and could stand to lose much.

    Whether or not the project goes forward, this university will continue to face the harsh realities of the current economic climate. With the raised funds for Milstein Hall specific to that project and the unmet funds coming from debt financing, its cancellation will not magically produce a $60 million dollar windfall. While this letter is not the place to debate the efficacy of LEED ratings, it bears noting that seeking LEED certification is adding $2 million to project cost not for performance enhancements, but the very labor intensive documentation LEED’s point checklist demands: we are not paying $2 million for a greener building, only to be able to say that it meets LEED standards. As for its appearance, we are all entitled to our opinions, but to those who ask us to make Milstein more like the expansions of Lincoln and Sage Halls – additions which poorly ape their parent in attempts at a narrow minded view of context as stylistic sameness, rather than testing new grounds of design and contextual sensitivity – I only ask if they would consider subjecting the contemporary production of their fields to the unnecessary and procrustean manipulations required to make it appear 125 years old. Literature, art, and music did not stop at the Victorian aesthetic, neither should architecture.

    Architecture is one of the flagship programs of this university. The undergraduate professional program is consistently ranked number one in the nation and is very highly regarded the world over. The new professional Masters of Architecture program, only in its fifth year, has been in the top five for the past two years, something completely remarkable given its nascence and highly distinguished competition. It’s an exciting time to be a graduate student in the Department of Architecture; we are in a strong and storied department which is pregnant with potential for even greater things. A new dean is in place, a new chair on the way, to be followed by a new director of graduate studies, our new NYC center is off to a promising start, our halls are literally overflowing with the new graduate students and the expanded visiting faculty they enable, and a new building is about to break ground.

    Indeed, this new building is not just the icing on the cake. Milstein Hall is essential for the survival of our programs. The professional Masters program, my program, has already had its first full accreditation review pushed from this year to next by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) pending Milstein Hall’s ground breaking; further construction delay is not an option. Like the professional Bachelors program, the fate of our accreditation hinges on a list of infrastructural problems which Milstein Hall will address, and the NAAB wants to make sure Milstein is really happening before granting accreditation.

    Losing our accreditation would be a disaster for the Department of Architecture. The quality and quantity of new B.Arch. candidates would plummet: who invests in an unaccredited program, particularly in this economy? My program, the new professional M.Arch., effectively dies. A number of us would transfer out, the large pool of new applicants would evaporate – our burgeoning reputation instantly killed, the fall out catastrophic. Very few schools lose their accreditation, let alone one as great as Cornell, the message would be that we are no longer who we were, that something very tragic has happened here. If we lose our accreditation, we essentially go out of business.

    However, providing the basis for our programs’ accreditation is only the most basic function of what Milstein will do. The Department of Architecture has outgrown its space and is split between the Arts Quad and downtown Ithaca, Milstein will put us together again. We have no hall in which to host lectures and conferences, Milstein does. The students of AAP complain of the isolation among the three departments, Milstein will be our missing hub. Rand Hall is in poor shape and makes us ill when sealed up in its bad air during the cold months, Milstein links with Rand and updates that facility, thereby improving the salubriousness of our environment. While a new OMA building may not matter much to other departments, for architecture this design will be a recruiting boon.

    While this may not appear to be the best time to begin a new construction project at Cornell, Milstein Hall is critical and cannot wait any longer. Our college is feeling the crunch of the current economic crisis through lost staffing, reduced visiting faculty, student hardship, and out of date equipment just like the rest of the University. If Milstein Hall is put on hold or cancelled, a deleterious sequence of reactions will rock the halls of our College, and we will suffer losses far greater than what other departments are experiencing. The diminution of our highly prominent Department of Architecture would be a great loss to Cornell.

    Zachary Tyler Newton
    M.Arch. ‘10

  • David Basulto


    Thanks! I took it from the post on Archinect, which didn´t had any references.

  • Mootly Obviate

    I have to say, I’m not really a fan of glass boxes, but there is an important argument for the building that was not presented in the above letter.

    It is simply that, unlike so many other structures, it is actually built around what it will be used for, and around the people who will use it. In other other words, the exterior is not all that exciting, but the program is spot on.

    As such, it would stand as a hallmark of building design built for its occupants, as opposed to an exciting structure in which the occupants are shoehorned in around the marvel that is the building.

    For a Koolhaas project it is strangely lacking in ego. And perhaps that is the problem people have with it. It doesn’t scream “I am a prestigious academic building! Acknowledge me!” Instead it just does its job, and from what I can tell will do it well.

    So yeah, we are never going to stand around outside it be stunned by it’s awesomeness. In fact, it will probably, and rapidly, become something people tend not to notice in its innocuous simplicity, hidden away on the back side of another building. But those who have to use it will every day appreciate that it does what it was meant to do, and thus helps them to do what they have to do.

    And that is a good reason to build a building.

  • am

    luz: “Take a hard look at OMA’s proposal and try to forget the Rem Koolhass was involved …you might find your oppositions’ point…”

    If you have been engaged in the argument against the construction of milstein hall, it has become increasingly clear that the argument against construction hinges on aesthetics. That is to say, as the opposition group has been forced to re-articulate their argument, the notion of aesthetics has move increasingly from subtext to foreground.

    The fact of the matter is, that aesthetics are fundamentally subjective, and OMA’s design often provoke a debate in this regard. However, the real “beauty” this design is in the way that it eloquently links the programatic needs of the AAP to existing spaces. The design take the auditorium and the studio as fundamentally unique and allows them to penetrate one another in a manner that suggests a cross-pollination of concept/theory (auditorium, lecturers) and design (studio). That is to say, the design takes the strengths of Cornell’s architecture department, physically manifests them, and provides the potential for growth.

    The posters on this site are savvy enough (well…most) to move beyond aesthetics and understand that a design can do far more than “look pretty.” In this case, the design can be a catalyst for an already great school to become better…

  • Jose Jimenez

    The people that are against the building due to budgetary issues should realize and think about the long term consequences that NOT building Milstein Hall will have. Losing the accreditation for the programs, as has been explained in various letters and articles, will mean, basically, the complete downfall of the architecture program in Cornell. Students will transfer out, and prospective students will not apply, which means that there are around 500 students less paying tuiton every year. The new architecture building has been promised to incoming students every year – I was told I was going to graduate in the new building by 2007, when I applied back in 2002. Due to conflicts with the design, it was changed over twice during my 5 year career as a student. It IS indeed a great accomplishment to have everyone in the Architecture Dept. agree on the OMA design. I am sure that every architect within the school has a few bits and pieces to criticize the building, since we all believe we can design something better than any other architect, but overall, the new facilities are badly needed. We have been the number 1 BARCH school in the US for many years now, and having a state of the art, new architecture building designed by one of the TOP architecture offices in the world just makes sense. It will reflect the excellence of the program.

    I would also like to add how the people that are against it, in a way contradict themselves. They are concerned about how costly it is now, but that it does not meet LEED platinum. Getting LEED certified costs even more money, and in the end, any LEED certification makes a successful and environmentally conscious building. In the end, it will be more efficient than a 100+ year old building, Rand Hall, in which students freeze in the winter due to its horrible energy efficiency.

    The students and professors that have made this program what it is deserve a building to be proud of as soon as possible, and should not be punished by losing our accreditation just because some people do not like the aesthetics (which I think what this is truly about) of the building.

  • Tony

    Just to clarify, as an individual who has been on several accreditation visits, Cornell cannot lose accreditation so simply (and the process to lose accreditation is very difficult as only one has ever lost accreditation). To say that physical facilities and resources is an issue, and a consistent issue (by the email, two visits), the visiting team does take into account plans for renovation plans.

    Unfortunately, it seems many people are playing into the hyperbolic language.

  • Andrew

    The last team to visit the university told them that they would not renew accreditation if the facilities were not improved. As a recent graduate of the program, those facilities would be considered sub-standard in a prison much less anywhere that people are paying $40,000 a year to attend.

    I both like and dislike that project. In fact, its actually quite sensitive in the sense that it is an add-on to the the two existing projects rather than a new building, and doesn’t demolish anything other than the parking lot. It also presents a much smaller profile than those adjacent to it, allowing for the existing older buildings to remain dominant at that entrance to the Arts Quad.

    I also was privy to some of the planning issues when determining the project that would get built. Two previous designs had eventually been rejected by the architecture faculty on ego-driven aesthetic grounds, at great expense to the University. Koolhaas was chosen mostly to shut everyone up, essentially hiring an architect that nobody in the faculty could question, and I guess now its the non-architect’s turn. I really hope they build it. The design quality of new buildings at Cornell is really awful and they could use something new of note on their campus.

  • Future Student

    I can’t believe Milstein Hall might not get approved … how disappointing. I’m a high school student that just applied to the architecture program at Cornell – in fact, Cornell is my first choice. I was really drawn to their program because of their national recognition and (until now) their new, state-of-the-art facilities.

    Why has the faculty at Cornell just now decided to dispute the design? Didn’t Koolhaas unveil this design almost 3 years ago? Why would they start complaining now when the survival of the architecture program is in turmoil?

    It would be a complete disappointment if the faculty at Cornell let the program collapse while they bicker about aesthetics. I, personally, admire this building, and I believe that it is time for more universities to embrace contemporary design principles. Has anyone seen the campus at the University of Cincinnati? Now there is a university that has truly embraced the 21st century. It is about time for Cornell to think more progressively as well.

  • mark

    i am engineer who followed the design of this important project at CU very closely. As some other commentaries noted, it has been 3 years since the project was intorduced to the CU community. the project went through several reviews, both design and program. Virually every critic agreed that the building will provide a great home for the architectural discourse amoung students while it provide a low,subdued interlink between the existing buildings in the Quad. The building also provide the openess that the new social environment encourage. This Addition will not only encourage uality design buidling on campus, but also will become a reason for the future generation of architect to study and challenge the status quo. I encourage the authorities to proceed with this addition. Compare to other institutions’ additions, such as Yale, this addition will provok many positive and thoughtful ideas.

  • coolASS

    The building just reflects the personality of its “designer”… it is controversial, anti-humane, and provides the perfect environment for LAB-students that don’t even have visual interaction with its immediate surrounding. That box in cantilever provides a library that goes on top of the bus stop (maybe its cool for students who prefer to look at the pictures of the books rather than reading them…).
    And the studio??? Well, part of it is supposed to be located in old east wing of Sibley Hall (where the library is now) with south orientation and spaced fenestration that leaves the drawing table half in glare and half in shade… shameful.
    That doesn’t sound to me a like the school of architecture Cornell deserves.
    The building detaches its users from its surrounding, also because the gesture of “extending a connection towards the gorge” just ended on a “cantilever” overlooking the Arts building pitched roof, OOPS… and blocking the (south) natural light needed at the sculpture workshops down below. Maybe that will eventually derive on asking Rem’s help to screw up the Art workshops even more…
    I forgot to mention that the “cantilever” shown in the rendering is actually supported by steel columns creating below a dark and COLD area.
    I could keep wasting my time trying to explain to you guys that Architecture is more than a fake rendering or an ego-centric brand name architect, but I’m too busy now…
    It’s too difficult to explain to the Milstein family that they were scammed by Rem and the ex-Dean of Cornell, who flew to Harvard before this scandal, and all their philanthropic donations burnt.
    Yes, it is SHAMEFUL… so stop looking at magazines and start learning about how a building works… but please choose carefully the examples.

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  • Cristian R

    Simplemente la intervencion en lo construido es pesima. “OMA TERMINARAS EN LLAMAS”, no por que sea OMA hay que REVERENCIAR, existen hoy en dia y en el pasado intervenciones notables en las pre-existencias, como las de Nieto y Sobejano.

  • Sasa Kanariya

    Lengthening the maturity of outstanding fixed interest US debt will increase inflation fears. A longer average maturity allows the US to inflate its debt away. Debt holders will not trust the Fed to keep inflation low while the US has a very high debt level.

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  • Clausson

    I hire regularly and am very unimpressed with Cornell students as a whole, when they reach the workplace. Maybe watching a building go up next door will help future young graduates understand how to actually build a building and not just talk-itect it.

    • nispero

      That’s probably because you’re not hiring the right alumni. Cornell has absolutely brilliant people who take their roles extremely seriously both in studio and in the workplace.

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  • import insurance

    I need to hear exactly what Kyle can do with that!!


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