Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

The site selected for Cornell’s art museum was a pivotal location with two distinct aspects, each requiring a unique response.

At the crest of a spectacular 1,000-foot long slope descending into a gorge, the site called for a strong, compact building to provide a sense of termination, while the preservation of natural vistas called for a design based on the vertical distribution of space.

The solution was to stack the museum’s spaces in a nine-level tower that maximizes views through combination of transparency and bold architectural form. Visitors enter a glazed entry court and either descend to exhibitions on the three levels below or ascend through the permanent collection to an outdoor terrace, where sculpture is displayed against a sprawling mountain panorama. The galleries are carefully light-controlled, with strategically located windows to add interest and orientation.

Show Facts

1.5 acres, a hilltop site terminating the historic campus spine of Cornell University


11,600 s/f galleries; 10,500 s/f work rooms/storage; 2,600 s/f sculpture terrace; 2,500 s/f administration; 2,000 s/f main lobby; 1,900 s/f main exhibition area; 1,400 s/f meeting room; 1,400 s/f lecture room/gallery; 1,100 s/f library


Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

PCF&P Services

Architecture, exterior envelope, interior design of public spaces

lead designer

I. M. Pei


National Honor Award
American Institute of Architects, 1975

Grand Award
American Concrete Institute, Central New York Chapter, 1974

The form and structure of the concrete building seamlessly integrate exterior with interior, dissolving the barrier between structure and shell while establishing a strong relationship with the surrounding family of masonry buildings.
Project Credits

Structural: Nicolet, Dressel & Associates, Montreal; Mechanical / Electrical: Segner and Dalton, Valhalla, NY; Landscape: Office of Dan Kiley, Charlotte, VT; Images: Nathaniel Lieberman