Flating Stacks

Wolfgang Tschapeller suspends over 100,000 books in new Cornell library

The Mui Ho Fine Arts Library is Cornell's new home for all things art and architecture. (Chris Cooper/Courtesy STV)

Cornell University’s much-anticipated Mui Ho Fine Arts Library is finally open in Ithaca, New York. Set within a 27,000-square-foot industrial building from 1911, the $16.9 million reading and learning space boasts four levels of floating bookshelves holding over 100,000 volumes. 

The project was envisioned by Austrian architect Wolfgang Tschapeller, head of his eponymous Vienna-based firm and a graduate of Cornell’s master’s in architecture program. Alongside New York City studio STV—the architect-of-record, Tscahpeller completely revamped the interior of the historic Rand Hall, a three-story, steel-and-masonry structure primarily used for printing and, in more recent decades, as architecture studios.

Interior daylight shot of steel library stacks and seating

Natural light from Rand Hall’s massive windows spills into all parts of the library during the day. (Courtesy STV)

In order to upgrade the building for the 21st-century, the design team had to secure its exterior envelope, replace the roof, and add thermal insulation. Thanks to these changes, as well as the integration of new double-glazed windows, the project is expected to reduce energy in Rand Hall by 70 percent. On the interior, Wolfgang Tscahpeller Architekt and STV removed the third floor and reinforced its original cross-beam skeleton so they could input the suspended steel mezzanines where all the books would be stacked, according to Metropolis. The entire renovation took a total of 18 months.      

An open reading room takes up significant space on the ground-level but beyond the books, the library is also a hub for art and architecture students to create. There is an 8,300-square-foot lab on the first floor with a material practice center featuring a makers space, a small-tool repository, as well as wood, metal, and digital fabrication shops. This dual utility of the library, both as a place where students can read and build, was one of the most important aspects of the renovation. 

Interior vertical shot of library and people walking on catwalk to book stacks

Elevators, stairs, and grated catwalks allow students to access every floor of the library. (Chris Cooper/Courtesy STV)

“Thus, we have two factories in one building,” said Tscahpeller in a statement. “One factory is for the material, and one is the factory for thought and concepts—both wrapped by Rand Hall to one interacting volume.”  

Meejin Yoon, dean of Cornell’s College of Art, Architecture, and Planning (AAP), said this is also what she loves about the project. “The production of new knowledge, ranging from scholarship to research and fabrication and making, tying those activities together as all forms of new knowledge is exciting.”  

Aerial view of buildings at Cornell next to trees and lake

Aerial view of Rand Hall and Milstein Hall (Courtesy Chris Cooper, STV)

The library is seamlessly connected via the second and third floors to Milstein Hall next door, a 2011 project designed by OMA for Cornell’s architecture department. The completion of the state-of-the-art structure spurred a number of improvements for the arts campus over the last decade which concluded this year with the Rand Hall renovation. Like the green roof atop Milstein, the library will activate its roof deck with outdoor installations in the warmer months. 

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