Location Ithaca, NY
Size 208,000 ft²
Completed 2011
Program Common area, classrooms, studios, laboratory spaces

The College of Human Ecology at Cornell University examines human life within social and scientific paradigms, pulling together an assortment of interests, including sustainability, health, nutrition, ergonomics, and textiles and fabrics. In designing the college’s new Human Ecology Building, which is targeting LEED Platinum certification, Gruzen Samton • IBI Group decided to mirror that variety. “The project is a discussion of that programmatic diversity,” says Darko Hreljanovic, a Cornell alumnus and the Gruzen Samton principal who served as the project’s lead architect. He says this idea is seen in the Panelite glass system he used, which scatters light throughout the building. “It creates complexity,” he says. “When you’re inside, rooms read differently.” Hreljanovic and Cornell’s Jim Kazda walk us through the new building.

Creating Collaboration

The 208,000-square-foot, three-story building strives to tie the college together, in an effort to fulfill the school’s dual goals of sustainability and visibility. “The space not only has upgraded facilities, but it also fosters collaboration between departments,” says Kazda, senior director of facilities for contract colleges at Cornell. In particular, the 5,450-square-foot commons is designed to serve as its living room, connecting the new building to the portion of the college housed in the existing space (No.1).


Architects Gruzen Samton • IBI Group
Client Cornell University
MEP Engineer M/E Engineering
General Contractors The Pike Company (garage), Murnane Building Contractors (superstructure), Lechase Construction Services (management)

Showing Off

The college also wanted to leverage the new building to generate awareness of its existence. Before this project, the college was housed in an older building that had limited visibility. “The College of Human Ecology wanted to increase its exposure,” Hreljanovic says. “That, for us, became a clue that the building should be transparent. For that reason, glass was chosen for the façade. Additionally, the EFCO glass curtain wall is intended to replicate a piece of cloth wrapped around the building to give a nod to the college’s fiber-science and apparel-design program” (No.2). Similarly, the stairwells are external, showcasing the flow of people throughout the building. “We wanted to celebrate student movement,” Hreljanovic says, “and it further animates the building.”

Local Stone

Located on a promontory overlooking one of Ithaca’s many lakes, the Human Ecology Building has a spectacular view, but the site also presented several challenges. An integrated 250-car underground garage needed to be sited first to provide a base for the glass box above it. Because the garage faced Beebe Lake as well as an upscale residential community, it came with some controversy. Gruzen Samton solved the problem by sheathing the garage in a bluestone called Llenroc (Cornell spelled backwards, and the name of the famous estate Ezra Cornell had built near the college campus), sourced by Ithaca Stone Setting a half a mile from the site (No.3). “We wanted a façade that looked like a stacked stone wall in the country,” Hreljanovic says.

The commons area provides a dynamic yet neutral background for events of all kinds, in hopes of bridging previously disconnected departments. Photos: Paul Warchol

Double-Duty Glass

The glass that gives the college its desired visibility also doubles as a mechanism for reducing energy use. “Natural light is a big player,” Hreljanovic says, explaining that occupied spaces are on the perimeter, maximizing the use of daytime lighting, and rooms are equipped with WattStopper occupancy-based lighting controls (No.4).Extensive glass use could affect internal climate control, but Guardian low-E high-performance glass has visible transmittance of 54 percent, along with a solar-heat-gain coefficient of 0.28 and a shading coefficient of 0.32. The research spaces requiring a more stable environment are concentrated in the building’s innermost spaces, to reduce the glass’s impact.


Certification LEED Platinum (expected)
Lighting Daylighting, occupancy-sensors, high-efficiency windows
Air Demand-control ventilation and air-handling systems, variable air volume fume hoods
Glass Low-E, high-performance glass curtain wall
Materials Local materials such as Llenroc stone

Conserving Systems

The Human Ecology Building also features a highly efficient HVAC system, including demand-control ventilation and air-handling systems that recycle classroom air for use in large laboratory spaces.Variable-air-volume fume hoods in the lab are equipped with position controls and Phoenix Controls air valves that cut airflow in half when the space is unoccupied. The labs also feature WattStopper occupancy sensors that reduce air exchanges from eight to four per hour when the rooms are empty. The commons feature a Rehau radiant floor system that generates heat to ensure that small study groups feel comfortable. The demand-control air-handling systems promote cooling when the room is filled for larger events.

These efficient systems bring positive results. Gruzen Samton anticipates that the building will use 40 percent less energy than a baseline building. Reducing energy use is a campus-wide priority at Cornell; the Human Ecology Building uses an energy dashboard to display water consumption and energy use, the goal of which is to create campus-wide competition among the colleges to reduce energy and water consumption.