Two million years ago, North America
As glaciers expand southward in the last of the great ice ages, a massive ice floe creeps through existing river valleys, gouging deep U-shaped channels into the rock.
1178 B.C., Greece
It is ten years since the Trojan War, but Odysseus has not yet returned home. He once came so close that his homeland of Ithaca came into sight, but he was driven back at the last moment by the winds.
1790, New York State
As Iroquois tribes are forced out, land is distributed among the Revolutionary War veterans. Simeon De Witt names many townships after ancient Greek and Roman cities: Corinth, Pompey, Utica, Troy, Virgil, and so on. At the base of Cayuga Lake, township no. 22 is named Ulysses (the Latin form of Odysseus) and the town proper after Odysseus’s home: Ithaca.
1865, Ezra Cornell’s Farm, high above Cayuga’s waters
Ezra Cornell collaborates on a new plow that can dig a 2.5-foot ditch, lay the pipe and cable, and re-cover it with soil. As the telegraph industry explodes across the country, the plow makes Cornell a fortune. After the1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Art, Cornell offers his Ithaca farm and $500,000 of his personal fortune as an initial endowment for a new university. With Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University is inaugurated in 1868.
School of Architecture, 1871
A. D. White’s personal interest in architecture precipitates the quick establishment of the College of Architecture as one of Cornell University’s earliest colleges, and the first four-year program in architecture in an American university.
1911, Alexandria, Egypt
Greek poet Cavafy writes the poem Ithaka, a revisiting of Homer’s Odyssey in which the poet emphasizes the journey to Ithaka over the arrival itself. The poem ends:
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Cornell Architecture, 1950s
Possibly the two most influential practicing architects in the United States at the end of the twentieth century, cousins Richard Meier and Peter Eisenman begin their undergraduate education at Cornell within a few years of each other.
Cornell Architecture, 1969
British historian Colin Rowe, who has taught at Cornell University since 1962, invites German Architect Oswald Mathias Ungers (OMU) to become chair of the department of architecture at Cornell University.
Cornell Architecture, 1972
A young Dutch student, Rem Koolhaas, comes to Ithaca to study and writes Delirious New York. He will later start his acclaimed company, OMA.
Troy is washing up after dinner. He asks, »Where would you like to end up?« »Cornell,« I say, and I think about the distant future. Best school of architecture in the country, apparently. A good place to end up.
I live on the edge of a cliff, the house hanging, like the tributaries, high above Cayuga Lake. A train runs along the base of the cliff twice a day, once filled with coal moving north to the power plant, once filled with salt, moving south from the saltworks. The glasses rattle on the shelf when it passes. At Cornell, I teach a theory course about Colin Rowe’s »Unideals« and a design studio with Peter Eisenman. I am named the Richard Meier Assistant Professor and I teach in OMA’s Milstein Hall. These are the same Ithacas, but histories and stories become overlaid so that they begin to imprint on one another, as if inky. Wise as I have become, so full of experience, I am working to understand what these Ithacas mean.