Teaching at Tianjin University School of Architecture

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I received a U.S. Fulbright Scholar grant to teach at Tianjin University School of Architecture for the fall 2016 semester. We leave in late August and return in late January 2017. The plan is to teach two courses about architectural practice: one for undergraduates dealing with building technology and the other for graduate students dealing with politics and sustainability. I’m looking forward to the adventure, with just a bit of trepidation about the pollution.

This is me PhotoShopped into the Beijing marathon; original image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11172396/Beijing-is-like-a-bonfire-as-runners-forced-to-complete-marathon-in-gas-masks.html

This is me PhotoShopped into the Beijing marathon; original image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11172396/Beijing-is-like-a-bonfire-as-runners-forced-to-complete-marathon-in-gas-masks.html

Exit signs in E. Sibley Hall at Cornell

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Exit signs are supposed to clearly show you the way out of a building. The Building Code of New York State puts it this way: “Where required: …The path of egress travel to exits and within exits shall be clearly marked by readily visible exit signs to clearly indicate the direction of egress travel in cases where the exit or the path of egress travel is not immediately visible to the occupants…” With all the best intentions, Cornell University replaced some old and ordinary doors and walls within the main egress stairwell of its architecture building (E. Sibley Hall) with fire-rated glazing and installed a bunch of illuminated exit signs to show the way out.

Views of exit signs from inside the E. Sibley Hall egress stair

Views of exit signs from inside the E. Sibley Hall egress stair

Unfortunately, as can be seen in these recent photos, the transparency of the doors and walls violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Code. This happens because as one reaches the second floor in the stair (image “b” on the right), one sees an exit sign apparently pointing to an exit outside the stair, just like the sign that one sees on the first floor (image “a” on the left). However, while the sign on the first floor actually points to the exit discharge, the sign on the second floor points away from the exit discharge. In fact, this second-floor sign in intended to get you into the stair from the outside, not to induce you to leave the stair. However, because people using the stair shaft can now see exit signs outside the stair that were not meant to be seen from within the stair itself, what was a simple path of egress has become confusing and therefore dangerous.

Steel truss design

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I’ve written a paper (not yet online) about graphical statics. In order to demonstrate that the “form-finding” objectives of such techniques are often superficial and flawed, I needed to provide a case study of an actual structural design problem, using real materials and real design methods, that accounts for things (like the buckling of bars in compression, or shear lag and effective net area of bars in tension, or deflection issues) that graphical statics ignores. So I created an enormous spreadsheet to find the optimal (lightest) steel double-angle Pratt or Warren truss for any given span, spacing, and loading condition. The spreadsheet actually designs 105 different trusses (with aspect ratios ranging from 2:1 to 16:1; and with from 2 to 14 “panels,” as shown in Figure 1) in order to find the optimal combination of aspect ratio and panel geometry for a given span, spacing, and loads.

Figure 1. Trusses are designed with from 2 to 14 panels

Figure 1. Trusses are designed with from 2 to 14 panels

Well, the spreadsheet had well over 1,000,000 cells and couldn’t be converted to an online calculator using the software I have. Therefore, I made a smaller version of the same spreadsheet — this one only designs a single truss (rather than 105 versions) and only considers whatever aspect ratio and panel geometry have been selected. However, this calculator can also be used to find the lightest truss, but only by trying out numerous geometries while keeping track of the truss weight.

Happy birthday to me (When I’m Sixty-Four)

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When those of us born in 1952 turned 15 (or were about to turn 15) and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper (including McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four”), actually being 64 was just an incomprehensible abstraction. Well times change: here’s my live cover of the classic song (with background vocals, bass, drums, and organ added) that I’ve just posted on YouTube to celebrate my 64th birthday.

Ode to Fluff

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I was asked by the architecture students running Thumbnail, a PechaKucha style event, to submit a song consistent with the event’s theme of “fluff.” The song itself can be heard on SoundCloud; the video, which includes the song as well as a spoken introduction (consisting of twenty 20-second segments as required—for a total length of 400 seconds, or 6 minutes 40 seconds), can be seen on YouTube; or, if you want lots of additional information about the lyrics and production, see the video on my music page.

This "fluff" image was created by the architecture students running Cornell's "Thumbnail" event, April 15, 2016.

This “fluff” image was created by the architecture students running Cornell’s “Thumbnail” event, April 15, 2016.

Honeymoon Phase

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My brother Kurt and I have created a new music production entity called Rollover.2 (it’s a derivative of the rock group, Rollo; hence the name, which is a contraction of “Rollo Version 2.” Our first production is a new song called Honeymoon Phase. Lyrics and production notes can be found here; the video is embedded below or can be watched directly on YouTube.

More nonstructural failure in Milstein Hall

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Last summer (2015), the plaza behind Milstein Hall at Cornell University, along with the concrete fascia over the spaces that sit beneath the plaza, were cut up and put back together again. As I explain in the video embedded below (and on my Critique of Milstein Hall website), the concrete plaza was designed and constructed with no slope and no drain, in violation of standard design and construction procedures. This resulted in a nasty problem in which water, carrying efflorescent residues from the concrete above, worked its way into the gallery space, and onto both the gallery windows and the windows at the west end of the below-grade corridors. The new work doesn’t fix all the intrinsic problems with the design, but seems to fix enough of them, at least for now.

Sunset over Milstein Hall

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“God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day… God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good…”

But not good enough for Milstein Hall: only for this building does the sun set in the east!