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Q+A with Kent Kleinman, Dean of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Cornell’s new Gensler-designed facilities in lower Manhattan, AAP NYC. Rendering © Gensler

With the recent completion of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) new New York facility, AAP NYC, Gensler Principal, Maddy Burke-Vigeland interviewed Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Cornell AAP, on their new presence in Manhattan and how the new space will support the design ethos and pedagogy of Cornell’s future.

Maddy Burke-Vigeland: When we first started the programming process, there was an oft-repeated statement: “this is not Ithaca.” Can you speak to how this plays out in the studio experience and why it was an important driver for the project?

Kent Kleinman: Everywhere that AAP has a presence is designed to add a unique component to our overall pedagogy. In Ithaca, we have an 8,000-square-foot shop — which makes no sense in Manhattan. In New York City, we have access to a universe of creative individuals and top-flight professionals who can be difficult to attract to Ithaca. Our studio classes in New York City deal with complex, multi-agent urban design problems in multi-layered regulatory environments. That's hard to simulate in Ithaca, but essential to the education of future architects and planners.

Burke-Vigeland: You undertook a fairly exhaustive search to identify the optimal location for AAP NYC. Can you talk about your criteria and explain why ultimately selected 26 Broadway?

Kleinman: Working with the Gensler team, we identified key criteria for our new space: abundant daylight; a high floor-to-ceiling dimension; proximity to multiple modes of transportation; and a vibrant neighborhood context, among others. We looked at over 100 sites in three boroughs before choosing 26 Broadway. This space has beautiful light, a central core configuration that allows fenestration on all sides with spectacular views, and a plate size that allowed us to rent the entire floor. And, of course, it is a landmark building in a part of the city that is quickly becoming a new center for the design community.

Burke-Vigeland: Cornell’s AAP program in Rome has been around for 30 years and you are now launching a new home for AAP NYC. Can you describe how these programs work in tandem with Ithaca as the home campus, and how AAP NYC will tie into Cornell Tech?

Kleinman: Our Rome program grew out of a design ethos that viewed the city as a collage of figural fragments layered over time. Rome remains the quintessential example of such a collage, and our offerings there are an important aspect of our studio culture. New York City is also deeply connected to our design pedagogy, but in response to new concerns: density; resilience; public open space; sustainability; and the rapid urbanization of the world's population.

With Cornell Tech, we have an active role in shaping the Built Environment hub, which will be part of the Technion/Cornell Joan and Irwin Jacobs Innovation Institute on the Cornell Tech campus. We anticipate graduate students working with researchers and industry on problems at the intersection of the built environment, computation and entrepreneurship, and anticipate these students migrating in and out of our new space downtown. The Built Environment hub is just now being developed, so stay tuned.

Image © Gensler

Burke-Vigeland: In viewing the “studio in the city,” we discussed the concept of a “minimum viable campus” identifying the critical elements that a Cornell New York City presence should provide, and looking to the urban context to provide the rest. Is this a model you think institutions could explore, even without having a supporting home campus?

Kleinman: Cornell AAP NYC should be seen in conjunction with our other pedagogical and programmatic activities. It is not intended to offer a comprehensive design education, but rather a critical new teaching and learning dimension to our existing activity in Ithaca and Rome. But, of course, during the semester when Cornell architecture, art, planning, and landscape architecture students are in residence in the city, the program has to provide a high degree of self-sufficiency. Given the incredible resources of New York City, this is not hard to accomplish.

Maddy Burke-Vigeland is an Architect and Principal who leads Gensler’s global network of Community Sector practice areas, which include our Education & Culture, Health & Wellness, Aviation & Transportation, Planning & Urban Design and Mission Critical Facilities practices. Contact her at maddy_burke@gensler.com.

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