An artist’s rendering of Atkinson Hall, to be built on the north side of Tower Road overlooking the Cornell Botanic Gardens

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell’s plans for a new interdisciplinary academic building have received a major boost courtesy of a deep-pocketed alumnus.

In a media press release sent out Tuesday night, the university announced the $30 million donation pledged by David R. Atkinson ’60 and Patricia Atkinson, to help cover the construction costs and outfitting of the new academic building, to be named Atkinson Hall in their honor.

According to the press release, the new building is “intended to foster innovative and collaborative research in priority areas of sustainability, public health, cancer biology, immunology and computational biology”. Space for faculty and staff of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and a new Master of Public Health program are included in the building’s program components.

The approximately 90,000 square-foot four-story building is slated to be constructed on Tower Road, adjacent to Rice and Bruckner Halls to the east of the “Ag Quad” that comprises much of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Savvy readers may recall that the plans for this new building have already been before the town of Ithaca, at least in concept, with a sketch plan presented to the town’s Planning Board back in August 2019. As reported at the time, the Atkinson Center would be on the first floor, the Cancer Biology and Immunology research units would be on floors two and three, and Computational Biology would be located on the fourth (top) floor. The project will also include the installation of small plazas, pathways, gardens, and the usual retinue of stormwater facilities, outdoor lighting, signage and landscaping.

The four-story building will be about sixty feet tall – floor-to-ceiling heights are often very tall for research buildings due to lab equipment and heavy-duty utility systems. This height will necessitate a height variance from town of Ithaca zoning. Whereas the city groups Cornell under its own U-1 zoning to keep conflicts to a minimum, the town’s portion of the Cornell campus is zoned as low density residential, which only allows 36 feet in height and requires a special permit since this is not a residential use.

A first-floor interior rendering.

The modern design for the new building is the work of Texas-based Lake Flato Architects. Lake Flato is known for an emphasis for sustainability in its building designs, so expect it to exceed Green Building Policy/Ithaca Energy Code Supplement guidelines.

The son of a New Jersey poultry farmer, Atkinson is a successful financier whose led several investment firms and spent decades as a leader of the financial industry. His money management firm in the Philadelphia suburbs was acquired by Morgan Stanley in the 1990s, where he also served as a Vice President. Now a prominent philanthropist, Atkinson has donated at least $113 million to Cornell since the mid-2000s.

To quote the Wall Street Journal, “(t)o David Atkinson, the key to economic development is creating efficient agriculture and energy systems.” In advancement of that goal, Atkinson’s largest single donation was in 2010, an $80 million gift to Cornell to finance the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a research center created in 2007 to study and find solutions problems related to energy, the environment and sustainable economic development.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at