The City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board discussed the aesthetic details of the University’s proposed expansion of the Cornell Law School at a meeting Tuesday, with some board members raising concern that certain aspects of the design could better respect Myron Taylor Hall’s existing exterior.
The first phase of changes lined up for Myron Taylor Hall include adding a new, accessible entrance to the building on College Avenue and adding two underground classrooms and an auditorium under the lawn between Myron Taylor Hall and College Avenue. In phase two of the expansion, the University will reconfigure the interior space of the lower levels of the hall at the south end of the Myron Taylor courtyard.
Scott Aquilina, senior associate at Ann Beha Architects — one of the groups working on the project — said his firm tried to incorporate modern aspects into the building’s Gothic architecture in the proposed designs.
“Our practice is engaged in that conversation [between contemporary and traditional],” Aquilina said.
However, John Schroeder ’74, a member of planning board and The Sun’s production manager, said that certain details of the proposed exterior design — including its modern front door — “could be more sympathetic with” the gothic architecture of Myron Taylor Hall.
“[The design] just feels weak to me ... It just doesn’t match the power of the building,” Schroeder said. “There is not a problem with a modern idea, but do it in a powerful way.”
Aquilina disagreed, saying he believes the proposal’s modern elements complement the existing design of the building.
“This is a modern law school, and it is a law school that is trying to attract new students,” Aquilina said. “The front door wants to have a certain level of transparency so people feel welcomed into the building.”
Tessa Rudan ’89, another member of the planning board, said that the proposed design for the front entrance is not consistent with her image of the building.
“[Myron Taylor Hall] is absolutely a gem, and to say that it somehow is not accessible to people or that it’s not welcoming to people from the outside … I can’t agree with that,” Rudan said.
Ithaca resident Mary Tomlan ’71 echoed the planning board members’ sentiments that the renovations should respect the original architecture of the building.
“I hope that this board will respect the integrity of this hall,” Tomlan said.
In its designs for the expansion, the University proposes lowering portions of the courtyard between Anabel Taylor Hall and Myron Taylor Hall by 30 inches. This, Aquilina said, would allow the University to avoid building a ramp from the new classrooms to the courtyard for disabled students.
“The school was trying to find places to expand without expanding footprint,” Aquilina said. “The courtyard is beautiful, but the courtyard is not used.”
Due to the changes to the courtyard, Aquilina said the University will also modify the stairway connecting College Avenue to the courtyard.
“We’re trying to integrate the bottom of the stair into the courtyard,” Aquilina said. “It’s lighter; it’s more streamlined.”
The new designs also include the construction of new windows that look onto the courtyard. However, some board members said these new windows compromise ideas inherent in the original design.
“[The University] somehow needs to keep the original intent there,” Rudan said.
Although there was disagreement with specific details of the design, the board largely approves of the general plans for the law school’s expansion, Schroeder said.
“I think everyone on the board, to my knowledge, including myself, thinks that the basic idea of the project is very good and very positive,” Schroeder said.
After board members expressed their concerns, the architects agreed on compromises to their original design. For instance, the University will reincorporate some existing architectural components — such as stone finials into the rebuilt stairs and sets of small arches into the rebuilt courtyard wall — to better maintain the law school’s architectural cohesion, according to Schroeder.
“The architectural elements to be reincorporated are a sort of aesthetic glue helping to hold the whole law school complex together,” Schroeder said.
Despite the board’s criticism, Aquilina said he appreciated receiving feedback from community members.
“There is more than one way to look at a project,” Aquilina said. “It was a good exchange.”