Every building has its own challenges. Some constraints are more severe than others, such as on this project in upstate New York.

The designers were asked to create a visually appealing building with a maximum number of apartment units, at a reasonable cost, on a small, steeply sloped site. In addition, they had to complete it on schedule so that university students could move in when they arrived in the fall. The designers then created more challenges: Construct a 6-story single-wythe masonry building with a drainage system, and do it through the middle of the winter without access to the outside of the building. The building had to be well-insulated with a window in every bedroom.

The solution was single-wythe loadbearing masonry, which allowed a shorter floor height, resulting in an entire additional floor being permissible under the Ithaca building height restriction. Masonry also allowed the construction to meet the schedule.

The engineer on the project, Ryan-Biggs Associates, Troy, N.Y., insisted that the entire wall system be detailed as if it were a cavity wall, with flashing and weeps at each floor. "This was costly but necessary," says David Biggs.

The combination of a rigid board layer against the back of the blocks and a fiberglass batt layer in the steel-stud wall provides a very high thermal rating for the wall, which is further improved by insulation in the cores at the ends of the precast floor planks.

The contractor could not work from the outside of the building without encroaching onto adjacent properties. With no exterior access or scaffolding, all masonry had to be laid overhand from atop the floor planks. At each floor, after the planks were laid, the masons laid the walls and finished them by leaning over the top of the walls to tool the joints on the outside face.

Cold weather procedures followed the MSJC Specification's requirements.

The apartments opened in August 1999, in time for Cornell University students to take up residence in September. The building's parapet may mimic those on nearby older buildings, but the structure is modern, warm, and quiet.