Rebuild Boardman Hall

The engineering library is to be closed at Cornell, since virtually all library activity in the college is electronic (see Chronicle article here) [UPDATE 8/13/10: two additional libraries at Cornell being consolidated with the ILR library; see Chronicle article here]. The Fine Arts Library is being largely dismantled and moved to Cornell’s library annex, but only in preparation for its rebirth in Rand Hall, a puzzling decision that I criticized in more detail here.

With the need for great quantities of prime library space increasingly in doubt, Cornell’s bad decision to demolish Boardman Hall in 1958 — in order to build the much larger Olin graduate library on the Arts Quad — should now be seriously revisited. This is a unique opportunity to begin planning to heal the wound that was inflicted on the Quad, an opportunity that may never present itself again.

Compare Boardman Hall (left images) with Olin Library (right images)

Compare Boardman Hall (left images) with Olin Library (right images)

Cornell’s planning and architectural decisions after Word War II have largely been disastrous; in fact, the architectural beauty of the campus is almost entirely due to the pre-WW II infrastructure that remains in place. The Arts Quad, in particular, is one of the greatest such assemblages of buildings in America, and would become absolutely spectacular if its southern edge could once again be defined by Boardman Hall, designed by the same architect, William Henry Miller, who designed Uris Library. Miller was an early graduate of Cornell’s architecture program in the 1870s.

Boardman Hall

Boardman Hall arcade facing the Arts Quad

Preserving and enhancing Cornell’s historic buildings and districts has apparently not been a priority. The recent expansion of housing adjacent to the neo-Gothic West Campus dormitories (originally Baker Court, 1916) and beyond Balch Hall in North Campus (1927) has done to these campus quadrants what Olin Library has done to the Arts Quad. It would be a remarkable and unique decision to take advantage of the imminent reduction in library space needs by actually doing something important for the long-term future of the campus.

The former Law Library in Boardman Hall

The former Law Library in Boardman Hall

Boardman Hall and Uris Library viewed from Sheldon Sundial

Boardman Hall and Uris Library viewed from Sheldon Sundial

Boardman Hall (left) vs. Olin Library (right)

Boardman Hall (left) vs. Olin Library (right)

4 thoughts on “Rebuild Boardman Hall

  1. Carrie

    What an interesting article.

    I wonder if, after all the moving to electronic libraries and limiting scholar’s and student’s ability to do “hands-on” research with the wonderful meandering this often implies, we won’t in 30 years or so be saying the same thing about libraries in general—that their demolition left an intellectual as well as real hole.

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  2. Terence

    Wouldn’t it be a dream come true if Cornell decided to rethink its architectural decisions and revive Boardman Hall? Cornell lacks a grand reading room when compared to many other universities.

    Olin Library just does not do justice to central campus at all.

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  3. Greg

    What a remarkably sensible idea. Tearing down Boardman Hall was a stunningly bad idea. But is the thinking by today’s administration any more advanced? I am told, for example, that the current university architect has said that it was a mistake to allow the law school’s addition (what is now the Jane Foster addition) to be built in collegiate Gothic style. He labelled the design “retrograde.” The decision Given this attitude, what chance is there of rebuilding Boardman Hall?

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  4. Adam Ziccardi

    As a student of 2021, I entirely agree with this article.

    “The recent expansion of housing adjacent to the neo-Gothic West Campus dormitories (originally Baker Court, 1916) and beyond Balch Hall in North Campus (1927) has done to these campus quadrants what Olin Library has done to the Arts Quad.”

    Spot on, my critique exactly.
    I’m looking forward to taking the architecture course this summer, and hopefully I may have a chance to meet you and discuss this topic- I’m showing my friends old photos of Boardman Hall and ranting about our lack of Grand Terrace as well.

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