Cornell University - East Sibley Hall College of Architecture, Art and Planning - Ithaca, NY
Project Type: Educational Institution Campus Building
Project Manager: Art Stern
Construction Manager: Chris Davenport
General Contractor: Pike Company Construction - Norman Rockefeller
Architectural Firm: LEVENBETTS- Stella Betts and Andrew Feuerstein
East Sibley Hall is home to Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (Cornell AAP), whose Department of Architecture is one of the world's most prestigious architecture programs. Originally constructed in the late 1800s, by the early 2000s Sibley Hall had undergone numerous transformations.
On the roof of Sibley Hall were two skylights that were decades old and had frosted over and faded with time - the amount of natural daylight coming through the skylights had been reduced significantly. The exterior steel frame of the building was in extremely poor condition and leaked; and, after many years of housing the weight of the Fine Arts Library, the top of the building had begun to spread apart and the exterior walls were cracking.
A significant design element to modernizing the repurposed third floor space was the intelligent use of natural interior daylight. After conducting extensive research, LEVENBETTS chose the VELUX Modular Skylight system to replace the existing skylights.
VELUX supplied a custom-designed, pre-engineered, all-in-one modular skylight system that simply snapped together, like Legos, in six module sizes and configurations. All six module designs were made with LowE3 tempered glass. VELUX Modular Skylights were designed in partnership with the London-based architectural firm, Foster + Partners. To reduce thermal transfer between outdoor and indoor environments, the skylights use a proprietary pultruded fiberglass polyurethane frame.
What makes these skylights different is that, like traditional windows, a single module panel can be easily replaced, if necessary, by simply sliding in a new skylight panel module.
Today, the first view when entering the long rectangular room is the natural light from the two new skylights, each of which runs a length of 50 feet, by a width of 9 feet, with 25 panel modules.
Four of the skylight modules, above the offices, open to allow airflow for natural ventilation. These venting modules have rain sensors to monitor and control the skylights during inclement weather. And because wind gusts are a precursor to storms, sensors also detect high wind changes and close automatically. The skylights are set to close during winds in excess of 20 miles per hour, or at the first drop of rain, whichever comes first. They can also be opened and closed manually. From pre-plan to completion was five years. The skylight modules were installed in under two weeks, including the demolition of the older skylights. Because the skylight system was prebuilt in the factory, VELUX was able to provide an accurate estimate of man-hours for the installation labor.
Everyone interviewed for this report credited the successful installation of the skylights to "the support and detailed shop drawings provided by the skylight manufacturer.
"I can attribute the easy installation to VELUX," said Davenport, Cornell University FS Engineering & Project Administration.
Cornell's Art Stern agreed. "They were with us throughout the entire process, from schematic design all the way through the construction administration."
And Betts said, "VELUX and their representatives were incredibly hands on."
To set the module panels into place the general contractor for the project installed the skylights with two workers on the roof and two inside.
"Our workers had no prior experience with this type of skylight and they went in without issues," said Norman Rockefeller of The Pike Company, the GC.
Davenport agreed. "Actually, it was seamless... a very easy installation," he said. "If you had asked me before the project, I would have said my biggest fear was installing these new skylights in a 122-year-old building. Honestly, it was one of the easiest parts of the project."
Comments from Architectural Firm
"There were many ways in which the modular system was advantageous," said architect Stella Betts, Partner of Leven Betts "That we could actually pop out one of the modules was really appealing to everybody. And it also made for a much easier installation."
"It's a really well built, well detailed, high thermal performance skylight," said Feuerstein. "And it's quite affordable because it's modular."
"Foster+Partners was instrumental in not only choosing materials for the product but in the design and in making sure that aesthetically we took commercial skylights to a different level," Rhoden says.