Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Shanghai Tower Exhibit & A Needle Woman Installation

October 20, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Non-Ithaca building related, but interesting nonetheless, here’s an architecture exhibit and a sculpture on the Cornell campus-

Shanghai Tower Exhibit:

This is a massive tower designed by Gensler being built in the Lujiazui District of Shanghai, China, and reaching a finished height of 2,073 feet (121 floors). The scale models are on display in Sibley Hall until November 7th, exhibit page here. Two Russian men actually climbed it back in February. It’s currently under construction, but has topped-out, and will be finishing in early 2015.

Photo copyright of Gensler




A Needle Woman:

Installed last month, this is “A Needle Woman,” a sculpture on the Arts Quad (in front of Goldwin Smith Hall) being exhibited from Sep 18, 2014 to Dec 22, 2014 done by artist Kimsooja, along with a group of collaborators, including Cornell nano material engineer and chemical scientist Ulirich Wiesner. The sculpture is treated with a molecularly engineered nano polymer that is precisely structured to maximize the refractive qualities of natural light (see project page here).



The Gates Hall Facade

October 15, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Quite possibly the most unique-looking building in Ithaca, the recently dedicated Gates Hall wears a facade mainly composed of glass curtain wall with an assortment of flat and angled metal shading panels produced by a company out of Kansas City, Missouri: Zahner. The group just released a nice web page detailing the design and installation process with the Architecture Team from Morphosis, the General Contractor Welliver, Structural Engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, and glass installer W&W Glass.

As facade systems have become more complex, the process has evolved to work-out as many pre-fabrication steps before arrival on-site, then as panels are installed, photos from the site are compared with the full 3D model for verification. The same technique was actually employed for the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, designed by SHoP Construction. In addition to the aesthetic purpose, the panels actually block a precisely calculated portion of sunlight to limit solar gain (too much extra heat from the sun, driving up cooling needs).



Sage Chapel Restoration Project Begins

June 25, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

This is a hard one to see because of all the trees in the way, but the Sage Chapel Restoration project has begun. A perimeter fence has been setup, along with full scaffolding around the work zone, and the slate roof is being carefully removed for re-roofing. The work on the exterior will focus on restoring the slate roof in certain areas, roof flashing, and brick and stone masonry that has weathered over time, and the interior work will see the repair of the apse window. More details about the project and history from a previous post here, with photos from earlier this year.



Longest Night Solstice Towers Utility & Roof Work Photos

April 13, 2014 // by Jason Henderson


Tower one has made progress on interior electric rough-in, sanitary plumbing rough-in (water supply lines will follow-up shortly), and insulation, while tower two is finishing-up interior framing. On the exterior, new lateral utility services have been installed on the eastern 5′ setback, including buried sprinkler and domestic ductile water lines, a 1/8″ to 1/4″ pitched PVC sanitary sewage lateral (green), 1 1/2″ diameter electric conduit for power, 3/4″ diameter pipe for data and telephone (grey lines wrapping around wall footer), a gas line, and new NYSEG electric meters mounted on both tower side walls. The service trench was backfilled with crushed #2 gravel, layered between blankets of soil.



Plumbing by Warden Plumbing, excavation and backfill by Kirksway Farm, and electric by Shisler Electrical Contractors.


Hale Roofing Inc has completed the roofing installation by applying a Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) single-ply roofing membrane over gypsum fiber roof board underlayment:


Typical cross-section (with steel decking):

The black aluminum gutter and downspout will collect roof water runoff out of the open slot in the parapet wall, which then funnels underneath the drive lane through a drain pipe, then to irrigation drip lines along fencing to provide water to plantings along the fence:



Project by Architect John Barradas and Partners, construction by Ciappa & Marinelli Builders

Longest Night Solstice Towers March Photo Update

March 13, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The Barradas and Partners, Ciappa & Marinelli Builders Tower/Thing Two on the Longest Night Solstice Towers is nearing full frame-out, as all three levels and exterior sheathing has been completed, and most of the interior is framed, with the stairs to follow. Doors to the outside have been hung on every level, and most of the 12″ x 12″ box windows have been installed. Once the crazy weather subsides, we should be seeing the exterior Tyvek house wrap completed, and the facade going up. Tower One has completed electrical rough-in, so plumbing rough-in will proceed next (domestic piping will be all copper, and heating will be PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, which has become more popular in the last 10 years), then drywall installation. The buildings will be fully-sprinklered as well, so the main riser will follow along the stair paths, then branch out along floor joist cavity paths.

Last update from back in mid-February here



Photos from late February to March 13th:

Green Building, Practices, Local Knowledge & Efforts: Part Two

February 27, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Energy and buildings are quite inseparable topics, so I thought I’d post a bit about some local initiatives here in Tompkins County I have enough knowledge to write about (there are many others, and the TCCPI newsletters are probably the best resource for this purpose). The bulk of this article contains a basic explanation of the utility-based renewable incentive structure in New York State. If you’ve ever purchased electricity in New York State since 1996, it’s been on your utility bill (unless your utility company is LIPA, which has its own programs, NYPA, a municipal or cooperative grid).

I’m leaving out Cornell University and Ithaca College, since the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) program assessments already provide lots of superb documentation about sustainability per each institution (and there’s just way too much to go through):


Cornell University STARS Scorecard

Ithaca College STARS Scorecard




The Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) is a coalition of those in the area that are involved in sustainability within the organizations they work for (or with), and/or run programs themselves. The Members List provides a good idea of the organizations involved. The group meets each month for presentations from members and guests, and also to talk informally about strategies and efforts.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated projects is the Black Oak Wind Farm, a wind turbine installation breaking ground this year that will erect seven wind turbines on Buck Hill in Enfield, with a production capacity of 11.9 megawatts.

Solarize Tompkins has led workshops, educational events, and has coordinated well over 100 solar installations in Tompkins County by leveraging NYSERDA incentives, and contracting through Solar Liberty, a large solar installer based out of Buffalo, NY.

Per building codes at the state level: the 2010 Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State (NYS Energy Code, which originates from the collaboration of ASHRAE, the International Code Council & US Department of Energy) requires new construction to be certified through a verification process, screening the heating/cooling devices, lighting, building envelope, and various components of the project for energy compliance. The codes have been in effect since Dec 28th, 2010. There’s a good map online showing National Energy Building Code Adoption Statuses.

As far as incentives, New York State (and many other states) have setup mandates for usage-based charges on customer utility bills that direct funds to energy-efficiency and renewable-energy grant programs through the public service regulators, in New York’s case: the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC has oversight of utility providers, telecom companies, and regulated water service providers (natural monopolies). NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was setup and is regulated by the PSC to administer programs and funds for the purpose of energy-efficiency and renewable incentives, and also research grants.

There are two separate charges, usually combined into one charge on the utility bill, but they have different objectives. The System Benefit Charge (SBC) was setup in 1996, and has been utilized for programming that reduces peak load. The first two five-year periods of authorization focused funding into a variety of programs: basically everything from customer-sited photovoltaics and weatherization to small R&D grants. Since 2012, the programming has shifted more towards providing funding for broad energy-efficiency programs in commercial buildings, including Combined Heat & Power, and market development incentives.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was enacted in the State Legislature in 2004, and mandated the PSC to provide enough programming to bring the state’s grid consumption to 29% renewable by 2015 (it’s commonly called “RPS 30 by 15,” but the original target was 25% by 2013). The program is split into two tiers: a Main Tier, and a Customer-Sited Tier. The Main Tier receives the bulk of funding, and provides incentives for new renewable production capacity and producer-plant upgrades, with most of the funding going to large-scale wind projects, but also hydro, biogas, and biomass. The Customer-Sited Tier, or “behind-the-meter” programs incentivize private property owners to install photovoltaics, anaerobic digesters, small wind, fuel cell, and solar thermal projects. The majority of the funding goes to photovoltaic installations, commonly through the NY-Sun Initiative.

The New York State Energy Planning Board has released their 2014 draft NYS Energy Plan, which contains information about where New York stands in energy production, consumption, emissions, grid stability, and provides policy recommendations for legislative consideration. There are numerous public comment sessions, and anyone is free to comment on the draft plan. The Tompkins County Planning Board has drafted a resolution for the Tompkins County Legislature to provide commentary on the plan, which calls for an interim goal of carbon-reduction of 50% by 2030, in addition to the State’s goal of 80% by 2050. Interim goals are a good idea in order to dissuade from “moving the goalpost” in the future, and the energy market has massive commercial interests involved, so it’s no surprise that the scope and draft plans have less progressive first runs.

Out of over 600 pages of narrative and documentation, the graphs and charts are great, so I’ve chosen a selection here that give a good sense of where we stand now, and what’s been happening over the past decade or so:


As you can see from these two charts, transportation and combustion-heating of buildings comprise the overwhelming majority of C02 emissions.





There was also a great 2012 study done by a Cornell University graduate student on the supply and demand of energy in Tompkins County:

Link to 2012 report by Johnson Grad student


Also- as a follow-up on Ian Shapiro’s Green Building Illustrated: there will be a local release celebration March 7th from 5pm-7pm at the Tompkins County Sustainability Center.

Longest Night Solstice Towers Project Update: Early to Mid-February

February 19, 2014 // by Jason Henderson



Architect John BarradasLongest Night Solstice Towers Project had tower two (or “thing two” as John and Ciappa & Marinelli Builders like to call it) nearly framed to its top out height when I came by for a look this past Friday, February 14th. Tower one’s electrical rough-in is coming close to completion (the wiring job looks very nice), and it’s quite an interesting sight at night with the lights on.

The pictures from February 14th (at the end) contain shots inside tower one and two- tower two’s layout is slightly different (accommodating the elevated path and entry at a different orientation for example), but the functions are the same on each floor- kitchen/living on ground, two separated bedrooms on second, master bedroom and bath on third, and a laundry and storage area on roof level with a terrace.






Tower two has a distinctly different feel being closer to the sidewalk and street, and the view is altered now from inside tower one, however, what I find most interesting about this project is the way in which concepts in other forms of art synthesize within the design. Architecture is a difficult art form since the end result must serve specific functions and be able to accommodate different living and/or working preferences, so it’s fascinating seeing it pulled-off like this. A door is an opening, a window is an opening: the openings are intended to lose the sense of what you would call “the middle ground” of a perspective, a term commonly used in photography and painting. John uses Edward Hopper‘s “Rooms by the Sea” (1951) as a reference, where the open door goes straight to the sea, with nothing in view in between, which is the design intention of using doors on each level.

Another theme is an idea coined by Colin Rowe, in his phrase “grid, frame, lattice.” It’s a way of thinking about the built environment as parts of a whole, in the geometric interpretation. We have a city “grid,” we have individual lots with buildings, our “frame,” and within that frame we have “lattice”: the joists that make up the flooring, the studs that form the walls, the structural elements that form the building. Downtown Ithaca is our grid, the square footprint, symmetry, and situating of the towers represent the intended frame, the floor joists will be left exposed to reveal the lattice, the fencing around the frame is a lattice, the vertical strips on the outside are a lattice, etc.. Architects have a term, “parti,” which is meant to describe the root idea or inspiration of a design, and I never fully understood what that meant until I came across this project.



February 7th:

February 9th:

Around February 11th:

February 14th:

Green Building, Practices, Local Knowledge & Efforts: Part One

February 4, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

There has been an ever-increasing focus on how buildings are built and renovated to maximize energy efficiency and waste with as few materials and resources as possible, while still maintaining, or even increasing overall function. The effort is commonly referred to as “green building” or “green design,” owing to the term “green,” which traditionally implies a cost and resource analysis that studies the entire lifecycle of the product/structure, with an emphasis on environmental responsibility. It’s also grossly misused for marketing purposes, but that’s besides the point.

The why question is obvious: we use vastly too many resources. The Global Footprint Network, a research organization, produces some interesting and shocking indexes for countries and regions of the world, called “Ecological Footprints,” that measure the use of resources against what the Earth regeneratively provides. The current World Footprint shows that humans use around 50% more per year than the Earth can regeneratively provide in the same period, a situation termed “overshoot”. Worse yet, our usage exacerbates the stability of the climate, so the regenerative capacity is also declining. The measure is quite clever, since it’s the same term we apply to budgeting, so a logical comparison is that the Earth provides us with a budget, and we overspend it worse than the US Congress.

Buildings and transportation account for over 75% of this spending in the United States. Transportations costs are closely tied to land use, which is another topic, but building energy consumption is largely a result of lighting, cooling, heating, electronics, ventilation, water heating, refrigeration, and various other activities. The intent of green design is to minimize a building’s demand for energy and resources in order to fulfill these various activities.

Perhaps the most widely-used system for measuring these design strategies is called LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, created and administered by the US Green Building Council. The system awards points for various design features within a project, ranging from simple features like bike racks to more advanced systems like geothermal heating. The number of points determines the level at which a project (or existing building that has been commissioned) is rated: from certified to silver, gold, and platinum. LEED has several types of rating systems based on the type of project.

Just recently announced, the Tompkins County Legislature will be asking for public comment on a proposed law to grant partial property tax incentives to projects that qualify for LEED certification. The meeting is this Thursday, February 6th; below is the proposed resolution: My apologies, I was mistaken: public hearing is February 18th, 5:30pm, in the Tompkins Legislature Chambers The public hearing has been postponed since the resolution was sent back to committee level this past Thursday’s meeting, the 6th.


The legislation passed in the New York Legislature earlier this year to allow municipalities to enact- in New York State, property tax abatements can only be authorized through the State Legislature, and in this case, Tompkins County will be deciding whether or not to enact this section. The legislative intent is to help defray the cost of commissioning a LEED building (fees, design review, design premium, etc.), which can vary depending on the project’s cost and complexity. The 2003 cost study I am citing is by Greg Katz, of Capital E.

The proposed abatement would incentivize existing buildings to undergo renovations and commissioning through the LEED system to gain certification, and would also incentivize new projects to add green design to their plans. I put together a simplistic model below to show the impact on an example $1 million project, along with some of the requirements as pointed out in the law. The proposed legislation aims for a $100,000 cap in abated assessed improved value per the LEED project, applying only to Tompkins County property taxes.


The US Green Building Council is broken-up into chapters, and Upstate New York has its own chapter, which reviews projects, organizes events, educational materials, coordinates among design professionals, and perhaps most importantly- uses the practice and experience of LEED professionals within the chapter to issue guidance on the rating system and proposed improvements to the national organization. There are some great practical training opportunities for those interested through GPRO (Green Professionals), which also just received a grant from NYSERDA to provide further training sessions throughout New York State.

Many architects and design professionals already have experience with green design, and interestingly enough, an Ithaca-native will be releasing what may indeed become a standard reference in the field:


Green Building Illustrated is being released this month, authored by Francis D.K. Ching and Ian Shapiro, Chairman of Ithaca-based Taitem Engineering, PC. Taitem is an award-winning, and often published design and engineering firm, which recently became a fully-certified B Corporation back in May 2013.

I asked Ian about his history as a design and engineering professional, and how the book came about in order to share it here:

Ian Shapiro: I am not an architect, but I have always loved technical drawing. In high school, I took drawing classes from a wonderful old Scandinavian immigrant, and I still have those pencil drawings. In college, I took drafting classes from a Professor Zsombor-Murray at McGill, a real character, with a big beard, a difficult professor, and a stickler for detail.

I always found that drawing brought me great calm. I would come out of drawing classes with a wonderful, peaceful feeling.

After college, I moved home to the New York City area from Montreal, and started grad school at Columbia. Around this time, I believe in a used bookstore, I happened on an early copy of Architectural Graphics, by Francis D.K. Ching. I’m almost certain it was the first edition, smaller than it is now, published at that time by Van Nostrand Reinhold, which was subsequently bought by John Wiley and Sons. I was taken by the straightforward instructions and by the clarity: Make sure two lines meet; show people in a relaxed poses; so much more. I took the book and practiced drawing from it – shading, lettering, and more. I still have my notebook from those exercises. I started sketching buildings just for fun – cabins I stayed in on vacation, homes I lived in, and more. I used these sketching techniques when designing prototype heat pumps while working at Carrier Corporation.

After a few years working for Carrier, I started Taitem Engineering. Taitem stands for “Technology As If the Earth Mattered”. The name derives from the subtitle to the book Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher, which I read when I was at McGill. Today, Taitem is a 40-person consulting company, recognized for its work in energy conservation, engineering design for buildings, and renewable energy.
When I started Taitem, I illustrated my own reports, at that time I was using an early CAD program. I don’t regard my drawing capabilities as anything but simple, but I have a deep love for line drawings, that goes way back over four decades. I treasured Architectural Graphics, and still do. Over the years, I picked up other books by Frank Ching, and am simply in awe of the breadth of the work. I have my favorites, I’m thinking of Architecture: Form, Space and Order for example, but I love them all. It’s not only the drawings, the crispness and clarity of the text is just something else.

So this is how I came to think of Frank when someone suggested that a book on green building design needed to have illustrations.

About 30 years after reading Architectural Graphics, I reached out to Frank Ching and asked him if he would co-author a book on green buildings. He had recently retired from teaching at the University of Washington. He graciously agreed. Frank’s body of published work in architecture is unrivaled. His books are translated into over 15 languages around the world. It was a great honor and pleasure to work with him.

If you’re interested in the book, it can still be pre-ordered through Amazon until February 24th when it’s released for general sale, and also ordered through the publisher, John Wiley & Sons. As a personal endorsement, I own three Frank Ching books, and they’re a tremendously helpful professional resource- this book should be no different.

Part Two of this post shall feature information on a few local efforts, as well as a section on the System Benefit Charge, a funding mechanism in New York State that charges energy consumers a fee on their usage in order to fund energy-efficiency incentive programs through NYSERDA as part of New York State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Longest Night Solstice Towers Photo Update

January 28, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Here’s a photo update of the Barradas & Partners / Ciappa & Marinelli Longest Night Solstice Towers project with photos taken at different stages during the past few weeks. Work is well underway on the second tower: the foundation walls were built and sealed on top of the foundation footers, joists and subfloor for the ground level were hung, ground floor walls assembled, and floor joists for the second level were just finished-up today. There’s now a poster of the project design near Seneca Street, on the fencing that surrounds the site (to be used for growing vegetables this Spring and Summer) for those interested in taking a look.




The Longest Night Solstice Towers – Ithaca, NY

January 6, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

If you’ve travelled down Seneca Street in the recent past, you may have noticed a rather unique project going up like nothing else that exists in Ithaca. This is the Longest Night Solstice Tower project by Barradas & Partners Architects, and Ciappa & Marinelli Builders (they built the 2009 GIAC project, and work on many custom houses). Barradas has a particularly interesting design portfolio, and this project is no different: the inspiration for the design comes from several historic precedents that may not be common knowledge for most people, and was certainly not known to me before learning about the project.












To begin chronologically, one of the earliest tower house precedents is out of Shibam, in modern-day Yemen, with towers dating all the way back to the 3rd Century AD. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with tower houses made out of mud brick reaching up to eleven stories high. They were originally designed for defense from Bedouin attackers, and each floor has only one or two rooms.

Another precedent is the famed medieval town of San Gimignano, in Siena-Tuscany, North-Central Italy, also containing a UNESCO World Heritage site: the town center, with 14 conserved towers. Many towns and cities in Italy contained house towers in the past, but San Gimignano provides the most well-conserved example all in one compact cluster.

Towers haven’t always yielded successful and long-lasting settlements however- the bundles of tower buildings that made up the former Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong is a good example of basically what not to do. The close proximity of tall, compacted-footprint buildings with few open spaces forced the development of complex, maze-like pathways from one building to the next, with very little open room to travel, hang laundry to dry, vent air, or deal with waste. Construction was essentially unregulated, and apartments were typically very small, sometimes without any utilities. After a longstanding struggle between residents and the Hong Kong authorities, the inhabitants were evicted starting in 1987 and the city was demolished in 1993.

To turn to a more recent and notable modern example, these two structures sit on the coast in Kobe, Japan: designed by Tadao Ando, the 2003 4×4 House is an iconic tower house project (he’s quite a famous Architect, check out the Church of Light, and the Water Temple). Each level is just one room, with some levels serving multiple functions, much like Barradas’ project.

Now, back to Ithaca..


I had a tour of the Longest Night Solstice Towers project with Architect John Barradas a couple weeks ago, and even though the first tower is not yet finished, it’s an interesting space to walk through.


The design calls for two identical towers connected by an overhead elevated walkway above a shared foundation path. The foundation footers are quite generous, and the foundation walls provide a crawl space for plumbing and maintenance access.  The stair tower is located along the northern wall, and the structure itself is all wood framing (with a vertical guy-wire at two corners, and a central framing column along the interior center wall forming the stair tower). There’s room for two parking spaces in the rear yard, and a shared central area between the towers.

All the doors above the ground level open to the inside, with protective outdoor railings, serving as both a window and a door to fresh breeze- essentially making an enclosed terrace out of a room with an open door. The 12″ x 12″ windows are block glass, serving as small clerestory windows on each level. The ceiling joists will remain exposed, and although it doesn’t look it from a distance, the exterior is all wood. The towers will be fully-equipped with sprinkler systems.

The first level of each will contain a living area, kitchen, and a bathroom with toilet, sink and standup shower. The second level will contain two mirrored bedrooms with separate sinks in the shared hallway, and the third level will contain the master bedroom, along with a private bathroom. The top level contains space for laundry and storage at the top of the stairs, and a door to the outside roof terrace, with the stair tower roof designed to collect and funnel rainwater into the terrace garden.

First Level for living space, kitchen, and full bathroom.

Second Level for two bedrooms and two sinks.

Third Level for master bedroom and bathroom.

Top Level for laundry, storage, and the roof terrace.. and a really nice view.

The lot is quite small and skinny (33′ x 93′, 3069 square feet) and is zoned R-3b, so this project is building to the maximum stories allowed, and in addition, the foundation connection between both buildings is an intentional design feature that deems the project a singular structure by code. It allows for the separation and privacy of two separate dwelling units (houses), which would’ve been non-compliant under the current code if they were separate structures, because of the small lot size. It’s a rather clever workaround, and given the immediate area, the project seems to be building an appropriate density. It would be interesting to see how a series of tower houses would function at similar proximity, especially since they could easily be designed differently to accommodate a variety of configurations for small to large families, or for accessibility.

I think what impressed me the most was the focus on getting the most out of each square foot, but still allowing for adequate space at each level. The material choices are modest and pragmatic, and the design of each feature from door swings to closet dimensions is slick and well-thought out. I look forward to seeing this project as it nears completion- it’s an intriguing example of design that “makes things work while still pushing the envelope.”


Special thanks goes out to John Barradas