Cornell’s New Flexible Design Space—With Pushcart Furniture—Is a Lesson in Itself
William Lim, an architect and Cornell grad, and furniture designers Lim+Lu created multifunctional pieces for a new Cornell studio space in Manhattan.
Two years ago, the executive director of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Robert Balder, attended an exhibit in Hong Kong. It was a showcase of ten chairs, each designed to capture the city’s spirit. Balder was particularly intrigued by one—a pushcart–cum–sofa–cum–storage unit by William Lim, a Cornell grad and cofounder of the architecture firm CL3.
Balder and his staff were then at the beginning of a search to find a new studio for his students, a pursuit that would take him to more than 100 properties over the course of two years. When they finally landed on a spot in Lower Manhattan that gave them more than double the square footage of the former space and fantastic views of the waterfront, Balder approached Lim to see if the architect would be interested in adapting his initial concept to a furniture line for the space.
Lim, who spends most of his professional life designing residential interiors, asked his son and daughter-in-law, Vincent Lim and Elaine Lu, furniture designers and founders of Lim+Lu, to team up with him for the challenge.
While William Lim’s original chair was versatile in nature because it was meant to inhabit the tiny dwellings of Hong Kong, its adaptations for Cornell are designed to give the school (and students) ultimate flexibility.
Everything about Cornell’s new studio space, from its stackable furniture to moving partitions, is meant to encourage multifunctionality: The space can be easily set up for design crits in the morning and a social event in the afternoon. The new line facilitates this: The lectern, turned on its side, becomes a table; a sofa becomes a coat rack; a coffee table a bookshelf. And, of course, all can easily be carted out of the way when the need arises.
“The function of furniture has changed a lot due to the internet, so it’s nice to do this kind of an environment. It’s more casual, it’s not formal, it can encourage interaction,” William Lim says of the line, adding: “We wanted it to be a fun series of furniture, playful, and yet with some sort of academic value…Students will hopefully use the furniture to experiment with certain concepts—the idea that the furniture has dual purpose, the changeability of the furniture, and the changeability of the space itself.”