Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Cornell University, Undergraduate Housing

Ithaca, New York


Cornell University overlooks both the town of Ithaca and Cayuga lake from its position between two deep gorges that descend to the lake below. The site designated for these two dormitory buildings is in Cayuga Heights on the edge of the campus, flanked by private homes and the North Campus dormitories. A section of the site has already been developed by the university as open playing fields and a large parking area. At present the site contains undulating golf fairways, with clusters of large oaks, beeches, and pines.

This facility for five hundred students, made up of units accommodating from four to six people, departs from the traditional collegiate cloister as well as from the dormitory cell. In acknowledging the trend toward informal living, the apartment layouts are designed to handle different kinds of mixed occupancy. All units consist of kitchen, living,-dining space, and individual bedrooms.

The serpentine form of the projects four-story buildings evolved as a response to the rolling terrain and trees. The dormitories follow the contours of the site, bridging the open space of the fairways, and interrupting the natural flow of the landscape as little as possible.

The two-entry elevations – the public façades – are diagonally offset from each other across a court and a looping path. In deference to the landscape, there is no formalized system of movement through the terrain, and entrance and circulation are decentralized. The exterior access to the individual units is either from ground level or, at the third level, from an exterior balcony that tuns the entire length of the building and permits circulation through the upper levels without returning to the ground. Erosions at ground level, balconies, and stair towers along the taut, curving façade planes mark the circulation points. On the rear façades, the bedrooms spaces look outward to the landscape from an uninterrupted plane, thereby maintaining the distinction between the public and private sides of the dormitories.

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