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SOM to Compete With Top Firms to Design Buildings for New Cornell Campus

After conceiving a master plan for the Roosevelt Island campus, SOM is not a shoo-in for designing the actual buildings.

By C. J. Hughes

This article originally appeared in Architectural Record.

March 07, 2012
SOM designed the master plan for the new Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island.
Image courtesy SOM
SOM designed the master plan for the new Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island.

In December, New York City announced it had selected Cornell, along with partner Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, to build a new applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. The master plan for the campus, conceived by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), likely helped the university win the bid, though it didn’t hurt that Stanford, its chief rival, dropped out.

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But now, it’s unknown whether SOM will be hired to design the actual buildings. Last Tuesday, Cornell announced a shortlist of six firms to design the main research facility, for which SOM had already proposed a 150,000-square-foot cantilevered structure to be located by the Queensboro Bridge.

SOM made the shortlist, but it will go head to head with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Diller Scofidio and Renfro, Morphosis Architects, Steven Holl Architects, and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Cornell picked firms that have the best track record with academic buildings, officials say. A winner is expected to be chosen in April, with completion of the facility slated for 2017.

The recent announcement stems from a call for entries announced in January by the Cornell committee responsible for overseeing the campus design. Forty three firms responded.

Gilbert Delgado, Cornell’s university architect and chair of the selection committee, says they intended to hire different firms from the very beginning. “We had always envisioned that the buildings would be designed by individual architecture firms, with the idea being that that results in a richer, more vibrant campus,” he says.

Delgado says the university has treaded gently with SOM about this sensitive issue. “We did have a discussion with them,” he says, and in the end, “they agreed with our approach.” He adds: “I think they are happy to be in the competition.”

SOM’s Roger Duffy, the campus designer, was not available for comment, despite several attempts.

Ultimately, the campus is slated to add 2 million square feet of educational and entrepreneurial space to the southern part of Roosevelt Island, which is located just east of the island of Manhattan. The roughly $2 billion project will be built on the site of a former hospital.

SOM had proposed a net-zero campus, and Cornell officials appear committed to the idea. “Our goal is that this first building exemplify sustainable design principles, represent a forward-looking attitude, and form vibrant and contemplative public spaces that can be expanded through future buildings,” said Cathy Dove, a Cornell vice president, in a statement.

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