WORKac releases vision for Sibley Dome renovation at Cornell AAP

WORKac unveiled this week a vision for a restoration of Cornell AAP’s Sibley Dome, the 40-foot-tall rotunda connecting Sibley Hall with Milstein Hall. The New York City office founded by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood will modernize Sibley Dome’s mechanical systems, reinforce foundations, and meet modern buildings demands: The team’s goal is to qualify the historic building for LEED Silver certification. Equally prescient, WORKac seeks to adapt the historic building; celebrate its rich history; and give it new life for students, faculty, and staff.

WORKac was brought onto Sibley Dome’s renovation team in October 2022. Newly released renderings share a first glimpse into what the architects have planned for the space used by Cornell AAP.

“Our goal was to celebrate the space but give it vibrancy and make it light again, and for it to allow large groups of people to come together, which this space was always meant to do,” said Amale Andraos. “We’re demonstrating that you can really push adaptive reuse to serve today’s needs, while also in an exciting way.”

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Sibley Dome was completed in 1902 by Arthur Gibb. (Courtesy Cornell AAP)

Today, Sibley Hall connects with Milstein Hall, an addition by OMA for Cornell AAP finished in 2011. Sibley Hall itself was built in 1902 by architect Arthur N. Gibb. It’s a typical bar building with east and west wings anchored by Sibley Dome.

For decades, the building hosted the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts. Then in the 1950s, it accommodated Cornell’s Fine Arts Library. That changed however in 2019 when the Fine Arts Library relocated to Rand Hall. The past few years, Sibley Dome has been underutilized, despite serving as an egress portal between OMA’s Milstein Hall and the west wing of Sibley Hall. It also anchors the north side of Cornell’s Arts Quad.

During COVID, students often found solitude working on the mezzanine level at Sibley, and architecture professors hosted critiques or reviews there. However, the dome has been known to leak, paint peeled, and the space long suffered from dim lighting despite its grandiose windows.

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The interior will feature a 100-seat “hanging” classroom, a “Collaborative Commons” area for students to gather and work together, and flexible studios and spaces for the Department of Design Tech and the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities. (Courtesy WORKac)

Upon completion, WORKac will restore the the underutilized space to its original glory. The dome itself is made of interior and exterior shells joined by steel frames, the architects said. The exterior dome is steel-plated and in line with the project scope this will be repainted and restored. Meanwhile, the interior dome will be replaced, and its glass oculus will be restored to bring light back into the room.

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A 100-seat auditorium will be added. (Courtesy WORKac)

Below the dome will be a new 100-seat auditorium. This volume will feature an angled underside that allows the original double-height space between the second and third floors to be maintained. Then beyond the auditorium will be a collaborative workspaces that vary in size from more intimate to larger gathering spaces. “We’re filling the void while maintaining it at the same time,” Dan Wood said.

Underneath the auditorium, the second floor area will offer flexible studio space for the Department of Design Tech and the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities. This area will have an exhibition wall, pantry area, and flexible design studios. Historic details will be preserved throughout. Outside, a new large window will replace a brick facade on the rear end of Sibley Hall. This will provide the Mui Ho Center for Cities natural light and views of nearby Fall Creek.

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The renovation will ensure Sibley Dome remains a gathering space in the future. (Courtesy WORKac)

“Sibley Dome has throughout its history been a gathering place for the college, and with this project, it will again bring people together across our disciplines,” offered J. Meejin Yoon, Cornell AAP’s dean. “In adapting this historic building, the design prioritizes sustainability and celebrates its historic elements while giving it new life.”

Yoon continued: “There will be a lot more activity and synergies and adjacencies that will create a sense of energy and dynamism. As a campus and a college project, it’s meant to restore the dome’s vibrancy and bring a community of scholarship, research and design together.”

The renovation by WORKac is anticipated for completion in the next 12 to 18 months.

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