Cornell Plantations Welcome Center / Baird Sampson Neuert Architects

© Tom Arban

Architect: Baird Sampson Neuert Architects
Location: Cornell Plantations, , New York, USA
Project Team: Jon Neuert (Partner-in-Charge),Yves Bonnardeaux (Project Architect) and Project Team: Harvey Wu, Andrea Macecek, Ian Douglas, Teddy Benedicto, Winda Lau, Cyril Charron, Hugh Clark, Jesse Dormody
Project Year: 2011
Project Area: 5,900 sqf
Photographs: Tom Arban

© Tom Arban

Sited within the University’s botanical garden, the project establishes experiential learning environment that reinforces Plantations’ leadership role in environmental stewardship education across all project scales. It creates formal linkages that interconnect existing formal and naturalized garden systems, and restores the primacy of the sites’ topographic conditions and vegetated states, which define this important cultural landscape.

site plan ©

Conceived as an integrated part of the garden experience, the Welcome Center is sited deep within the garden at the transition between flatland and knoll, where a series of existing pathways converge. Approached and re-encountered from a variety of vantage points, the Center is organized on two levels – engaging and demarcating these two topographic conditions – enabling the facility to multitask in response to the needs of its communities of users. As a literal extension of the Flatlands, the lower level of the Center is an active terrace for visitor services, with mechanical elements bermed into the hillside. The upper level accommodates formal educational and events programming within a flexible multipurpose space that facilitates programmatic and spatial extensions between indoor architectural and exterior landscape environments, and barrier free access to the knoll.

© Tom Arban

Relocated to the perimeter of the site, parking facilities are organized to reinforce to the curved landform of the surrounding ‘bowl’. A new arrival terrace engages pedestrian linkages from the main campus, consolidating systems for visitors arriving by foot, bicycle, car, tour bus and public transit – advancing orientation and interpretation objectives. Adjacent to the arrival terrace a new ‘bio-swale’ serves as an environmentally focused introduction to the Garden, cleansing stormwater from the parking lot and demarcating the route of an ancient glacial river. The bioswale is designed to receive stormwater from the upper campus, to provide environmental benefits beyond the immediate project.

2nd floor plan © Baird Sampson Neuert Architects

Bioclimatic design principles to promote sustainability and extend the project’s educational value. Carefully sited in response to the Garden’s unique microclimate, passive ventilation and natural cooling strategies are used exclusively on the lower level. Cool air that pools at the base of the knoll is passively drawn inside the building via motorized vents and skylights that promote ‘stack effect’. The wooden louver that extends across the south façade creates a dynamic interior environment of modulated light – preventing summer sun and allowing passive solar gains in the winter. Rooftop solar thermal panels provide 80% of the building’s space heating needs. In addition, self-finishing regional and recycled materials, high efficiencywater fixtures, also contribute to the Centre exceeding the client’s mandated to achieve LEED Silver and tracking to become Cornell’s first Platinum project.

Text provided by Baird Sampson Neuert Architects.

© Tom Arban
© Tom Arban
longitudinal section © Baird Sampson Neuert Architects

Client: Cornell University
Structural Engineer: Blackwell Bowick Partnership Ltd.
MEP Engineer: M/E Engineering P.C.
Civil Engineer: T.G. Miller P.C.
Landscape: Halvorson Design Partnership
Constructor: Welliver McGuire Inc.

Cite: "Cornell Plantations Welcome Center / Baird Sampson Neuert Architects" 07 Nov 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Mar 2015. <>