Sometime in November of this year, in the heart of fall semester, the windows on the back of Cornell’s Goldwin Smith Hall will be boarded up. Traffic on East Avenue will narrow to a single lane, blasting of a bedrock dome will commence and trucks, an average of one trip every six minutes for the next six months, will start coming and going to the site.

Klarman Hall, an ambitious, state-of-the-art, $61 million, 28-month-long building project will be underway in earnest.

A project this big is an undertaking ungainly in its magnitude yet requiring exquisite, choreographed management of literally a million details, quietly executed by competent and unsung heroes, with benefits rippling through the Ithaca community.

Since 1906, the College of Arts and Sciences, home of the liberal arts at Cornell, has had its home in Goldwin Smith Hall. A venerable structure, it is almost as iconic of Cornell as the McGraw Clocktower. In 1906, however, there were around 1,000 students in the College of Arts and Sciences. Today there are 4,100, with more than 200 humanities faculty. There has been, naturally, a chronic shortage of workspace and classrooms for years, and Klarman Hall, the first humanities building to be constructed since Goldwin Smith, is expected to alleviate that situation.

Construction on Goldwin Smith began in 1904, and was completed two years later, at a cost of $368,989, which was funded by the trustees of the University. This was at a time when the entire University’s enrollment was right around 3000 students and tuition was just pushing over $125 — per year. Cornell was still reeling from the enrollment and revenue dip that followed the typhoid epidemic of 1903 that left 29 Cornell students dead. Trolley tracks, part of Ithaca’s network of streetcar lines, ran down the middle of East Avenue behind the building. The first automobile had arrived in Tompkins County only in 1899. It was a different time.

The north wing of Goldwin Smith Hall was originally the 1893 College of Agriculture Dairy Science Building. That building was incorporated into Goldwin Smith’s final design, and still visible over a previous entrance (now a window), is a stone engraving of the Babcock Device for measuring butterfat in milk. Goldwin Smith Hall was intended to evoke the traditions of western civilization while not overshadowing the existing buildings on the Arts Quadrangle, though at the time of its opening Professor Hiram Corson called the new building “a Greek temple with bungalow trimmings”.

The building was named in honor of one of Cornell's most beloved (at the time) professors — Goldwin Smith. Goldwin Smith came from Oxford University, and was a Professor Emeritus in English History at the time of the building's dedication. Recent controversy over his profound anti-semitism has somewhat clouded his legacy.

Goldwin Smith Hall houses several auditoriums, and classroom and office space for the Departments of English, German, Art History, Russian Literature, and Classics. There’s the Temple of Zeus café, and the College of Arts and Sciences Admissions Office. In addition to the various departments housed in the building, Goldwin Smith also is the home of the College Scholar Program, the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Offices, Records and Scheduling, the Academic Advising Center, the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Kaufmann Auditorium, and a small art gallery.

Goldwin Smith has been more than just the home of the Humanities at Cornell. At various times, Liberal Arts types, illustrious and obscure, have made the building a frequent haunt: E.B White (1920s), Joyce Brothers (1940s), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Peter Yarrow, Stephen Reich, Thomas Pynchon, Harold Bloom (1950s), Harry Chapin (1960s), Bill Maher, Christopher Reeve (1970s), Ann Coulter (1980s). Vladimir Nabokov had an office in Goldwin Smith. On the other hand, Hendrik Willem van Loon did, too.

The Klarman Hall building design is by the Boston architecture firm Koetter, Kim and Associates (which also designed Cornell’s 2008 Physical Sciences Building), whose principals are all Cornell Architecture alumni.

Located in the space between Goldwin Smith Hall and East Avenue, Klarman Hall will be distinct from, yet connected to (on two levels), Goldwin Smith Hall, and will add 33,250 square feet of usable space including offices, work spaces, classrooms and a 330-seat auditorium for the College of Arts and Sciences. The vision for its 7,700-square-foot, glass-roofed atrium is that it be a focal point and gathering place for students and faculty from the entire campus.

Substantial change can be unsettling to an institution, and there is no more hidebound culture than a university’s. One of the questions hovering around campus is the fate of one of Cornell’s most venerated fixtures, the Temple of Zeus café. Founded in 1964 through the collaborative efforts of students, faculty and staff, the original Zeus was in a subterranean storage room where Kaufmann Auditorium now sits. Generations of humanities students remember the high, dark walls decorated with huge plaster replicas of the statues from the real Temple of Zeus in Greece — hence the name.

In 1997, the Temple of Zeus relocated, with an expanded, vegetarian-friendly menu, to the other side of Goldwin Smith's main lobby — a sunnier, less ‘atmospheric’ venue, but exceedingly popular to this day.

In early 2016, a new café — its name yet to be determined — will open in Klarman Hall’s atrium to replace Zeus. The new café will have more seating and perhaps an altered menu. Tom Walls, who retired last week after eighteen years as manager of the Temple of Zeus, is optimistic.

“Working at the Temple of Zeus was a joy, but the space had serious limitations,” he said. “The new facility will allow for a much more varied and creative cuisine, and offer far more in services for our customers.”

Though actual construction of the building itself won’t start for a few weeks, Cornell administrators and donors technically broke ground for Klarman Hall in May. There’s an enormous amount of preparation that has to be done before they can really get down to business.

The roof on Goldwin Smith, original slate from the building’s construction in 1904, is being totally replaced preparatory to construction, and that’s not even technically part of the Klarman Hall project. Every window facing the construction site has to be boarded up and a double ventilation system created to provide air to those rooms. There’s the relocation of utilities — construction of new steam and condensate piping, potable water, storm sewer, chilled water, and new electric and telecom duct banks and associated manholes. All this before the heavy-duty construction work starts in November.

Shepherding the University through this process from start to finish, an overwhelmingly complex construction project executed without disruption of the operation of the college and all in the crosswinds of a dozen conflicting constituencies, is the College of Arts and Sciences’ Director of Facilities Henry Crans.

“I worked on the commissioning of the building, and I represent the interests of the college during the design and construction process,” said Crans. “After completion of construction, I’ll coordinate the moves into the building.”

Something of a legend on and off campus, there is no better person to be at the helm from start to finish. Henry Crans has been a presence at Cornell since he took a job as a draftsman in 1969, three years after returning from a tour in Vietnam. He’s been with the College of Arts & Sciences since 1979. As director of facilities, he’s put his stamp on projects large and small, including the restoration of Morrill Hall, previous renovations of Goldwin Smith Hall, and the construction of the Physical Sciences Building. After 40-odd years of problem-solving, planning, troubleshooting, dealing with contractors and stomping out sudden brushfires, he is a man exceedingly difficult to fluster.

Even beyond the ivied confines of the Arts Quad, Henry is the person whom people say or think to themselves every day, “I bet Henry might know how to do that.”

And it’s more than mere know-how. He exudes quiet, unflappable, patient, old-school authority. At a vigorous 68, somewhere between Gandalf and Aragorn, when Crans is there, what needs to get done will get done, without fuss or ostentation.

Mark Holton, Cornell’s Director of Outdoor Programs and Risk Management, has known Crans, who is also an Outdoor Education instructor, for more than a decade.

“Back in the day everyone wanted to teach with Henry, because no matter how early you woke up, Henry would already have breakfast on the table when you struggled out of your sleeping bag,” said Holton. “Henry has been a fixture in the rock program, both at the wall and at the Gunks. He also teaches in the land program and I've spent many memorable afternoons with Henry teaching cross-country skiing. Henry has the answers. When I was worried that the cabin I built would fall over in a strong breeze, he did a solid heel drop on the loft floor, assessed the ensuing vibrations, and said, ‘Nothing to worry about.’ He was right. More than once I've wished he was my dad. Outdoor Ed named one of its brand-new 15-passenger vans after him.”

Klarman Hall is expected to receive an environmentally-friendly LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating, the second building so designated on campus. LEED certification, which includes a rigorous third-party commissioning process, offers compelling proof to the building’s owner and to the public at large that certain environmental goals have been achieved and that the building is performing as designed.

The LEED rating system offers four certification levels for new construction — Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum — that correspond to the number of credits accrued in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.


According to Crans, that has translated into a number of environmental design features for Klarman Hall, including rainwater storage and re-use, a radiant floor heating system in the atrium, a heat recovery unit to recapture heat energy from return air in the ventilation system, passive ventilation and a solar shading system to reduce heat gain in the open areas.

The project, all $61 million of it, is being funded entirely outside the university budget by private philanthropic donations. The building’s official name is the Seth ’79 and Beth Klarman Humanities Building, reflecting the donors of the lead gift. The Klarmans were present at the groundbreaking ceremony in May, at which Seth Klarman called Cornell “a place of education and experience, challenge and personal growth, friendships and collaborations. … I’m grateful to have this opportunity to give back.”

Though there are no solid numbers, certainly a $61 million dollar construction project will generate a positive ripple effect in Ithaca’s economy. It’s the policy of Cornell’s endowed colleges to hire local union labor until the supply is exhausted. Furthermore, the closer the source of materials the more credits are earned toward the project’s LEED platinum designation. The project will employ scores of excavators, carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

Marcus Williamee, business development representative for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 267, anticipates work for approximately 15 members of his union.

“Our members who live in this community, spend their hard-earned wages here,” he said. “They buy their clothes, their groceries, their cars and their gas in the community.

“So not only does the worker benefit, but everyone does when we hire our local tradespeople,” Williamee added. “We feel that Cornell University also recognizes that investing in local labor directly puts money back into Ithaca’s pockets.”

With East Avenue as the main north-south road for undergraduates, there has been concern that the new building will alter the character of the campus. While strikingly modern, and characterized visually by the wide-open, glass-roofed atrium, it was deliberately designed to complement and not interfere with or overshadow the existing architectural character of the buildings nearby, and especially Goldwin Smith Hall.

“We were instructed that it should not be visible from the Arts Quad,” said Crans.

The transparent feature of the new building allows it to pay homage to Goldwin Smith Hall while clearly being of its own historical period.

Still, the new building will be a formidable presence on East Avenue.

“This spectacular building will symbolically and physically welcome the rest of the campus to participate in the humanities and arts at Cornell," said Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Lepage at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Klarman Hall is a story of the convergence of philanthropy, a massive and complex undertaking, highly competent stewardship, lofty educational goals, an acknowledgement of the past, a stride into the future and an economic boost to the community. It shouldn’t pass unheralded. 

(1) comment


Great, informative article - especially as I listen to the construction work & noise swirling near me! I would like to mention that two other departments have homes in Goldwin Smith Hall and were not mentioned: the Sage School of Philosophy and the Department of Comparative Literature.

Welcome to the discussion.

This is a space for civil feedback and conversation. A few guidelines: 1. be kind and courteous. 2. no hate speech or bullying. 3. no promotions or spam. If necessary, we will ban members who do not abide by these standards.

Recommended for you