Bill & Melinda Gates Hall at Cornell University

Gates Hall is a new computer science building for students of Cornell in Ithaca, New York.  Designed by Morphosis Architects, the building features Zahner custom systems for the soffit, interior entry foyer, and exterior facade.  The building, named for Bill & Melinda Gates, is a dedicated building for Cornell University's Computing and Information Science (CIS) program.

The project's facade is designed using generative processes developed by Morphosis. Its unique appearance also serves the building's environment performance, reducing heat gain while providing natural light into the offices and classrooms.

The complex facade appears to be made up of unique parts, but there are several typical forms which are cleverly spaced to give the appearance that each part is unique. This technique of using the negative space to create complex visuals is a hallmark of the architecture firm's genius, and can be seen on other Morphosis projects such as Emerson College LA and Bloomberg Center. 

Zahner worked with Morphosis to optimize the frame panel system, reducing it to the fewest number of components. By switching from bulky hollow frames to a combination of angles and plates, Zahner minimized the leading edges and simplified its compound joint conditions, resulting in sharper lines and cleaner forms at a reduced cost.

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Photograph of the Gates Hall main entrance and soffit system.
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Metal panel system provide the building's offices with natural light and shading.

Field time and layout were reduced immensely by using a three-point attachment scheme and coordinating anchor locations beforehand, which were fabricated into the mullions. There are 450 total framed panels using 90 panel types, fabricated by Zahner for the facade. Each panel was pre-designated and automatically numbered with its specific location and pre-installed mullion incorporated anchor-tabs awaiting their arrival.

The facade project team included Zahner working directly with glass installer W&W to optimize the panel system. Thornton Tomasetti provided the structure's engineering, and Welliver was the construction manager that coordinated and ensured the project's success. The project team’s delivery of the angular sunshades should contribute to the building's expected LEED Gold certification.

Reducing the cost of the Gates Hall facade with Design Assist

Because Zahner not only fabricates but also engineers its facades, Design Assist is often employed for complex facades such as Gates Hall at Cornell. By managing the project under a Design Assist contract, Zahner was able to refine the façade elements with Morphosis to arrive at a system that achieved the aesthetic intent and was streamlined for fabrication and installation.

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Photograph of Gates Hall at Cornell.
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Interior foyer with stainless steel entrance metalwork.
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Detail of the exterior galvanized steel facade connection.
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Detail of the orange-painted aluminum soffit system used on Gates Hall at Cornell University.
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The design team members examine the Zahner mockup as part of the Design Assist contract.
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Detail of the interior metalwork on the Gates Hall at Cornell.
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Engineering rendering and construction photograph of the completed facade.

Using Zahner's Design Assist process allowed Morphosis to hone the costs of their design while meeting its visual requirements. Once the design intent was solidified, Zahner clarified the forms, both aesthetically and functionally. This resulted in reduced waste and construction delays, as well as a reduction in the overall cost.

The facade was designed to create the illusion of movement through a series of rigid forms. By varying the shape and angle that panels integrated into the panel system, Morphosis was able to create smooth transitions across the surface. Each panel is mounted on a staggered galvanized steel frame, and skinned with perforated stainless steel.

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The design team members overlook the window unit integration of the completed facade.
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Gates Hall facade seen from the adjacent baseball field parking structure.
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Photograph of students entering the overhanging panel at Gates Hall.
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Detail of the custom metal panels used on Gates Hall at Cornell.

Building the Entrance Soffit

In addition to the building's generative facade, Zahner also engineered and manufactured the bright orange soffit under the main entrance. The sloping curves of the painted aluminum soffit contrast against the angularities of its framed panels.

Zahner used the ZEPPS assemblies on the soffit to achieve this flowing surface. Systematic production of seven internal fin members per panel created the continuous curves and minimized the number of joints. Support members follow the profile of the soffit to ensure the efficiency of the final surface and optimal installation.

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Zahner's soffit layout and design for the main entrance.
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Photograph of orange-coated aluminum soffit panel system at Gates Hall.
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Atrium at Gates Hall, shows the interior feature wall installed and fabricated by Zahner.
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Detail of the shaded perforated metal panel system at Cornell's Science Center.
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Student Lounge at Gates Hall, shaded by the perforated panel system by Zahner.
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Photograph of Gates Hall at dusk.
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Photograph of the Gates Hall at night.

Building with Morphosis

Zahner has worked with Morphosis on several projects including Cooper Union and Clyde’s Wine and Dine in New York City, and the Eugene Federal Courthouse in Oregon, and Emerson LA in California. Because of these successful collaborations, Morphosis brought Zahner onboard during the planning stages to provide Design Assist.