Merit - Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design

Cornell University

Bailey Plaza
Cornell University - Bailey Plaza
Jury Comments
“ “. . . the transformation of a parking lot to a vibrant gathering space and a destination is dramatic . . . responsive to its location on campus . . . the integration of desire lines, willingness to allow for a large-scale room as a pre-function space, and the densified edges come together cohesively . . . the process to garner support and consensus was noteworthy . . .””


    • Site – 1.38 acres
    • Bailey Plaza turns a former surface parking lot into a central social space.
    • Dense plantings shelter the site from the surrounding surface roads.
    • Bailey Plaza treats over 90% of site stormwater.
    • Native planting provides color and interest against gray Ithaca skies.
    • Uniform, thermally finished bluestone pavers form a smooth surface that intersects swaths of rougher, more variegated bluestone, which reflect the site’s natural circulation “desire lines.”


When completed in 1920, Bailey Hall was surrounded by a large expanse of green space in the center of Cornell’s vast pastoral campus. The building deteriorated over time and the open space at the building’s entrance was converted to a parking lot, which interrupted the pedestrian movement between the east and west ends of campus. Bailey Hall became isolated and unapproachable with the otherwise lush, green campus environment. For decades the space was dominated by conflicting vehicular functions, leaving pedestrians and hundreds of students streaming out after lectures to dodge their way between cars across a see of asphalt. Despite a 2006 renovation to improve accessibility and to remedy its “acoustics by God, seats by Torquemada” reputation, its setting remained shabby. Meanwhile, Cornell developed a master plan that focused on breaking down physical separations between its private and public colleges and reducing the presence of cars to make the campus more sustainable and pleasant for pedestrians. Together, these goals suggested the need to replace the unsightly parking lot outside Bailey with a pedestrian plaza that would serve all of Cornell.

Located at the center of campus, Bailey was the crossroads of the university’s private colleges to the west and public colleges to the east. Bailey Plaza, when it was a parking lot, served as a kind of barrier between the public and private sections of the institution. Now it is a connector, a social space, and passageway for all students, no matter their field of study or their annual tuition. The space has been reimagined as a link in the sustainable Founder’s Greenway running diagonally across the campus, a key element in the university’s 2005-2008 master plan. As a civic space at the foot of a neoclassical portico, it is at once a part of and a pause in the Greenway—a spot to move through or a place to sit and recharge.

A plaza is not a typical venue for incorporating local landscapes into a campus. But at Bailey Plaza, the characteristic elements of the Ithaca region—dramatic streams and gorges, forests, and bluestone walls—were interpreted in a spare, local vocabulary. The warm and varied pavers are made of locally quarried bluestone, an iconic upstate New York material. The planting palette features individually chosen specimens such as Kentucky coffee trees and evergreens often found in surrounding forests. Bailey Plaza shows how imaginative landscape architecture can combine hard and soft elements into a functional and welcoming whole.

Project Team

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.; GIE Niagara Engineering; Arup; Urban Horticulture Institute; O’Brien Stoneworks; Dan Euser Waterarchitecture; LeChase Construction, LLC