Department of Irrationality, Jargon, and Bullshit


Actually, the original, unretouched photo that I took today is already a parody, but I did add the “Department of Irrationality, Jargon, and Bullshit” in anticipation of what ought to be coming next. And I’m not just being mean: the concept of “bullshit,” at least since 2005, has been given some academic credibility.

Proposed addition to the new sign for Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell University University

Caution at Sibley Hall, Cornell


I’m not an Instagram fan, so I end up posting my favorite images here. I took this one in Sibley Hall a few days ago. Sibley Hall is part of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell. When neighboring Rand Hall is closed down for renovation in a few months, this single toilet will be the only viable option for men, not only those in offices and facilities on the second floor of Sibley Hall, but for students and faculty using the 25,000 square feet of studio space in adjacent Milstein Hall. When asked about this at a recent faculty meeting, the Dean of the College stated that the “solution” to this problem will most likely be a request for a Code variance.

This will be the only WC available to men on the second floor of Rand-Sibley-Milstein Hall once Rand Hall is closed for renovation (photo and Photoshop editing by Jonathan Ochshorn, 2017)


Missing signs


Every time I see a sign for something goodfor example, a sign at the supermarket that says something like “healthy choices”I wonder where the missing sign for “unhealthy choices” has been hidden. Well, thanks to the power of Photoshop, I can rectify that situation. I recently passed a new sign pointing to the new building addition and renovation for “Cornell Health”; I’ve added in the “missing” sign pointing to Architecture.

A new sign points to Cornell’s just-completed “Health” building addition and renovation. I’ve added the complementary sign for Architecture.

Milstein Hall at Cornell continues to leak


I was interrupted today by two workers who needed access to Milstein Hall in order to inspect roof leaks; the green roof itself has been in a state of partial demolition for the last two years, as I described in this blog post from May 2017. There are several areas where water is currently coming down, mainly in the stepped seating area and over the wooden floor area.

A large garbage pail is positioned under one of several roof leaks in Milstein Hall, designed by OMA (Rem Koolhaas); photo taken July 25, 2017 by Jonathan Ochshorn

It’s Gehry’s fault…


When Frank Gehry built an addition to his traditional house in Santa Monica, California in the 1970s, at least some of “Gehry’s neighbors were not happy at the unusual building being built in their neighborhood,” according to Wikipedia. Well, it turns out that not only Gehry, but the whole upscale neighborhood, is sitting on an earthquake fault that could do more damage to their homes than any mere symbol of deconstruction.

New draft maps of earthquake faults were just released for parts of California, and Gehry’s residence appears to sit right on top of one. I took the draft map from this LA Times article and superimposed it on a Google map showing the location of the Gehry residence. This is the result:

Draft map of earthquake faults superimposed on Google map showing the Gehry residence in Santa Monica, CA

Prisoner of Art (Again)


It’s both a bit weird, but also quite expected, to see the same design tropes appearing over and over again within the same time period at the same place. I hinted at this phenomenon in my 2009 song, Prisoner of Art.

Two examples from the Cornell campus follow. The first is based on the idea that, because Cornell is situated between two gorges, the idea of the gorge should somehow be expressed in new campus construction. So not only do we get the West Campus dorms designed by Kieran Timberlake referencing the glacial topography of the Finger Lakes, but also more literal representations of the gorges in Bailey Plaza (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates: “A tilted, striated bluestone fountain presents a mysterious dark pool at its base, making material reference to Ithaca’s famous gorges”) and the Pew Engineering Quad (EDAW, Inc.: “The created landscape will dramatize the topography by adding landscaped slopes that recall the natural character of the nearby Cascadilla Gorge”).

Gorge-like rock formations designed into the Pew Engineering Quad (left) and Bailey Plaza (right)

Second, the idea of defamiliarizing the standard turf quadrangle by “tilting” up one corner of a parterre has shown up in at least three recent landscape gestures at Cornell: at the Law School’s new underground addition (Ann Beha Architects with Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects); at the entry plaza in front of Weill Hall (Richard Meier with Olin Landscape Partnership), and in the triangular space bordered by Milstein and Rand Halls (OMA Architects with Scape Landscape Architecture).

Tilted turf at the Law School (left), Weill Hall (middle), and Milstein Hall (left), all at Cornell

For the record, here’s the chorus of Prisoner of Art, © 2009 J. Ochshorn

Locked into this endless competition
Your foolish passion and your foolish heart
Can’t escape this mindless repetition
You’re a prisoner of fashion, a prisoner of art

No more artificial light


The word “artificial” is often abused. The typical dictionary definition describes artificial as something “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural.”

So, we have artificial limbs and artificial flowers, in both cases referring to something created by humans as copies of something natural. The manufactured limb or flower is clearly not natural; it is artificial. The problem comes with expressions such as “artificial light” (“her skin glowed in the artificial light”). Here, the use of “artificial” is incorrect, as it implies that “light” is something that comes “naturally” only from the sun. But light produced using electricity is also light: it is not a copy of light, and therefore it is not artificial light. If one wanted to use the word “artificial” in such a sentence, one would need to say something like: “her skin glowed in the artificial sun.” But this latter construction is also terrible because electric light is not necessarily intended to be a copy of light from the sun. So how about this formulation: “her skin glowed in the electric light” or “her skin glowed in the incandescent light.”

Please: no more artificial light!

And while we’re on the subject, a radio or loudspeaker does not create “artificial” sound.

How to build a double fire wall between Rand and Milstein Halls


Some (but not all) of the Code-compliance problems Cornell is experiencing with their Rand Hall Fine Arts Library proposal result from the large floor area of the combined Rand-Milstein-Sibley Hall building. This combined area far exceeds the allowable area, even if all the buildings were of Type IIB (non-fireproofed steel) construction, like Rand Hall and Milstein Hall. I’ve outlined some of the false statements made by Cornell and its Code consultant in order to get Code variances for this project. But it turns out to be relatively easy to build a 3-hr fire wall between Rand and Milstein Hall, which would allow Rand Hall to be considered as a separate building with its own construction type (IIB) and a compliant floor area. Cornell considered a bizarre and difficult-to-build 2-hr fire wall in its schematic design proposal, which would have been noncompliant in any case since a 3-hr fire wall is needed, but this fire wall disappeared in the design development phase, replaced by a noncompliant 2-hr fire barrier. In order to use this noncompliant fire barrier, a Code variance was needed. It’s actually much easier to build a 3-hr double fire wall, as shown schematically below, since Rand and Milstein Halls are already structurally independent, and each half of the double fire wall only needs to have a 2-hr fire rating. Links to all my blog posts and articles on the Fine Arts Library proposal can be found here.

Schematic section showing a 3-hr double fire wall, based on Section 1, Sheet A5-12, Milstein Hall working drawings. No structural modifications to either building are needed.

Hearing Board to revisit Cornell’s variance request for the Fine Arts Library


The New York State DCEA Syracuse Regional Board of Review will determine whether or not to reopen Petition No. 2016-0269, Cornell’s request for a third Code variance for their Fine Arts Library proposal in Rand Hall, at their monthly meeting on June 15, 2017. I sent them a summary of false statements made by Cornell and its Code consultant in their application (petition) for the variance. You can check it out here. Links to all my blog posts and articles on the Fine Arts Library can be found here.

[Update: June 20, 2017] I was just informed that the Hearing Board has declined to reopen Petition No, 2016-0269.

These four hypothetical construction scenarios demonstrate that Cornell’s implicit claim that the wood frame construction type of Sibley Hall (VB) is to blame for the Rand Hall library’s non-compliant status is completely false.

Update on Milstein Hall’s green roof


[Updated below] Milstein Hall, Cornell’s architecture building designed by Rem Koolhaas and OMA, has been experiencing problems with its green (vegetated) roof as far back as 2011, when leaks began to appear both at skylights and at the intersection with the brick wall of adjacent Rand Hall (shown in this video). Just about two years ago, in April 2015, an extensive roof repair effort was undertaken, requiring the removal of vegetation and soil medium, as well as  rigid insulation panels, in order to examine and repair the roof membrane. For some reason, unknown to me, the green roof was never reassembled, and piles of vegetated soil medium, removed to access the membrane, remain piled up around the edges of the roof along with panels of rigid insulation.

Milstein Hall’s green roof, May, 2017, with insulation panels along with piles of vegetated soil medium left unfinished for the last two years (photo by Jonathan Ochshorn 5/24/17)

Aside from aesthetic considerations, leaving the rigid insulation boards exposed to the sun, especially with the printed side up, will cause permanent damage to the boards. Here’s some guidance from the manufacturer’s product data sheet (pdf) for their Owens Corning FOAMULAR® 404, 604, 404 RB and 604 RB extruded polystyrene (XPS) rigid foam insulation:

XPS Insulation can  be exposed to the exterior during normal construction cycles. During that time some fading of color may begin due to UV exposure, and, if exposed for extended periods of time, some degradation or “dusting” of the polystyrene surface may begin. It is best if the product is covered within 60 days to minimize degradation. Once covered, the deterioration stops, and damage is limited to the thin top surface layers of cells. Cells below are generally unharmed and still useful insulation.

FOAMULAR Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) Insulation is a thermoplastic material with a maximum service temperature of 165°F. In horizontal applications, FOAMULAR XPS Insulation may experience greater solar exposure than in vertical applications and it may be damaged by heat buildup. Simple precautions during construction can minimize the potential for heat related damage. Install only as much FOAMULAR XPS Insulation as can be covered in the same day. For horizontal applications always turn the print side down so the black print does not show to the sun which may, at times, act as a solar collector and raise the temperature of the foam surface under the print.

Some background material can be found in Figure 12 of my Critique of Milstein Hall (Water and Thermal Control).

[Updated July 25, 2017] The green roof has not stopped leaking, even after two years.