A reconstructed building sets the standard for future rehabs at Cornell

Early AE collaboration played a major role in moving this project forward efficiently. 

November 06, 2017 |

Upson Hall, a 1950s-era engineering building on the campus of Cornell University, was completely made over to bring the building up to the school's current pedagogical needs. The remake included “strategic” replacement of the building's facade, which is cantilevered at the corner. Image: Michael Moran Photography

The recent transformation of Cornell University’s 160,000-sf Upson Hall could become a blueprint for how this Ivy League college updates other buildings within the engineering quad of its Ithaca, N.Y., campus.

The $74 million project maximized Upson Hall’s interior space featuring four new conference rooms, three social lounges, and public corridors for collaborative learning and research. Advanced envelope, HVAC, and lighting systems were installed to boost the building’s energy performance. And a variegated façade design, composed of terracotta and vertical windows, brings more natural light into the building.

A key factor in this project was the early and ongoing collaboration between the Building Team’s architects Perkins + Will (the original designer of Upson Hall in the 1950s) and Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis; with the engineers Thornton Tomasetti and ME Engineers; and Cornell University Sustainable Design.

P+W and LTL went so far as to embed staff members in each other’s offices during the project. And the collaboration with the engineers was critical because some of the client’s ideas for this building were at cross-purposes. “How do we design a façade that would maximize daylight and thermal capacity at the same time?” said David J. Lewis, a Principal with LTL Architects. The Building Team needed to reconcile aesthetic, energy, and daylight objectives, which included balancing the building’s wall-to-window ratio. 

The collaboration “started with everyone being at the table, and with each team member’s commitment” to the process, says Robert Goodwin, architectural design director at P+W’s New York office.

Goodwin and Lewis are Cornell grads.

There was some consideration given to tearing down the building and constructing new. But that was quickly scotched, says Goodwin, because Upson Hall is located between three other buildings on the quad, and is attached to an atrium. The client and Building Team decided, instead, to completely gut the existing building and replace the façade strategically.

The new façade is cantilevered in a way that creates space for social interaction at the corner of the building, says Lewis.

Goodwin says Cornell was a collaborative partner on this project, and its aspirations for sustainability “were very high.” (At one point there was some discussion about reconstructing Upson Hall to Passive House standards.)


The building was designed with four new conference rooms, three social lounges, and public corridors for collaborative learning and research. Image: Michael Moran Photography


The building, which is currently LEED Gold-certified, pending Platinum certification, serves as a “living sustainability lab,” enabling mechanical and aerospace engineering students to work, learn and study in a high-performance, technologically advanced facility.

Upson Hall’s new design specifications will be applied to the other six Cornell buildings located within the engineering Quadrangle over the coming years.

LTL and P+W were so pleased with the interdisciplinary approach the Building Team took that the firms have talked about working together on future products. The revelation for Goodwin was that it’s possible to collaborate of projects in a different way that integrates practices. “This was my first time as a design director that I didn’t wear a design hat. It was very efficient.” 

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