Rendered elementally in stone, wood, water, and native plants, Bailey Plaza transforms an acre of surface parking into a thriving university commons. A distinctive pattern of locally quarried bluestone pavers incorporates a hydrological system that reuses more than almost all of the site’s stormwater runoff, making the project an exemplary fusion of experiential richness and sustainable resource management.
Natural gorges frame the north and south edges of Cornell University; the university’s master plan calls for linking them with a “green ribbon” through the rapidly expanding campus. Bailey Plaza is a one-acre paved square that punctuates this greenway, serving as an important anchor for the eastward growth of the campus and as a much-needed “urban” outdoor gathering place. MVVA’s design ends the entrenched privilege of the automobile on this grossly underused location at the heart of the campus, and creates an outdoor counterpart to Bailey Hall, a flagship event space that also serves as Cornell’s largest classroom.
The plaza’s paving pattern expresses the site’s natural circulation desire lines, using bands of two types bluestone—one smooth and consistent, the other irregular in shade and texture. The perimeter of the large central space is defined by a massive stone fountain, large timber benches, densely planted beds, and Bailey Hall’s grand entry staircase. The dense plantings at the plaza’s edge shelter it from perimeter surface roads and provide flashes of bright Cornell red in fall and winter, when gray skies are the norm in Ithaca. A tilted, striated bluestone fountain presents a mysterious dark pool at its base, making material reference to Ithaca’s famous gorges.
The Cornell campus uses no irrigation, so MVVA developed a sophisticated stormwater detention system for the plaza. Pavement grading directs surface runoff to planting beds and slot drains subtly integrated into the paving. From there, water flows beneath the plaza, allowing the planting soils to absorb most of the runoff and the rest to filter down into the aquifer. Campus regulations required at least 25 percent of stormwater runoff to be treated on site; MVVA’s design treats over 90 percent.
Bailey Plaza won a 2008 Building Stone Institute Tucker Design Award.
Cornell University Bailey Plaza