Bush Science Center

An Intervention

Bush Science Center undergoes a complete overhaul to right its design wrongs.

By Leigh Brown Perkins

First issue: zero sunlight

“In our first meeting with the architect, we said if there were not going to be windows, don’t even bother to start the renovation,” said Archibald Granville Bush Professor of Science Thomas Moore, who has worked for over a decade in the building’s dungeon-like lower levels and was faculty liaison for its redesign.

Solution: glass galore.

Not only will the bottom floors have windows for the first time, but the façade will feature a three-story glass atrium and “special” windows tucked here and there for additional light and interest. Even labs and classrooms will have glass walls.

“Natural light is always good,” said Paul Harris, professor of psychology, who teaches environmental psychology in the labyrinthine building, the largest academic building on campus. “Lighting that’s too bright or too low is stressful. Light, noise, and temperature are critical to productivity and also to the simple enjoyment of a space.”

Second issue: mazelike interiors

“We were genuinely isolated,” Moore said. “Now we’re going to be a community. That’s huge.”

Solution: connection points.

Tearing down interior walls and hamster-habitat hallways will create an open concept, with space for lounging, studying, and chatting. A pedestrian mall will guide visitors to its doors. Even the hallowed corner office will be flipped on its ear, with every professor’s private space of equal size, scattered congenially throughout the building. No seniority, no politics.

“If a biologist has his office next to a physicist, it naturally encourages us to start talking to each other, and for our students to share what they’re studying with each other,” Moore said. “Departmental divisions will start to dissolve.”

Design that gives people a nudge toward each other creates more than cross-pollination of ideas.

“Public areas give people a sense of ‘this is my space and I belong here,’” Harris said.

Third issue: lack of greenness

“I was 11 years old when this building was built,” Moore said. “There are some environmental concerns that will be addressed.”

Solution: state-of-the-art materials and design.

Rollins is going beyond a basic update, all the way to LEED  certification. In addition to introducing energy-recovery technology, rainwater collection, low-water-use fixtures, and high-efficiency lighting systems and windows, Rollins is replacing the mid-century air-circulation system, which will increase the air-change rate fivefold.

Fourth issue: the mad scientist syndrome

“Science is often seen as something incomprehensible,” Moore said. “Making this building feel like the living room of the campus will help people understand that science is not something separate or weird.”

Solution: an irresistible first impression.

Enter the Annie Russell Theatre or the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and there can be no doubt that Rollins puts a premium on the arts. The same concept applies here for the sciences and math, Harris said, with its architecture hitting several psychological switches at once.

“The overall impression with this sort of soaring design is that Rollins values science and wants you to be a part of it,” he said.

And the ultimate welcome mat? A coffee shop on the first floor.

Learn more about the Bush Science Center redesign.