Cancer

I’m scheduled to undergo a robot-assisted radical prostatectomy on Aug. 29, 2018. Scary shit, especially given the cloud of uncertainty that surrounds such operations—and not just the operation itself, but also the underlying rationale for even getting tested in the first place.1

Robot-assisted prostate cancer surgery

Nevertheless, I’m hoping for the best, and finding comfort in the brilliant lyrics of Donald Fagan, whose “song oozes with cynicism for futures that never came to pass,”2 and so seems completely appropriate in this context: “A just machine to make big decisions/Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision/We’ll be clean when their work is done/We’ll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young…”3

1 Richard Ablin, “The Great Prostate Mistake, ” NY Times, March 9, 2010.

2 Sief, “What a beautiful world this will be,” Futures Words, May 15, 2012.

3 Donald Fagan, “I.G.Y.,” The Nightfly, released October 1, 1982.

New Rand Hall code compliance drawings raise additional safety issues

Without the Code variances that have been granted, Cornell’s Rand Hall Fine Arts Library, as a Type V-B building with A-3 occupancy, would be limited to two stories; as it is, the current proposal (including the anticipated roof-top pavilions) is for a five-story building. The proposal, without the variances, would also greatly exceed the allowable per-floor area permitted by the Code, owing to its attachment, without any fire wall separation, to Milstein and Sibley Halls.

Not only does the current proposal exceed the height limits granted by prior variances, but the variances themselves do not even appear to apply to the current proposal at all, since the prior variances were for a 3- or 4-story library, not a 5-story library. This is a classic bait-and-switch move, entirely unjustified by any fire science rationale.

I have already written extensively about the flawed logic underlying these Code variances and also underlying the Fine Arts Library proposals themselves, so I won’t repeat those arguments.

What I will comment upon are the new (for me) Code analysis drawings supplied by the architects that are now available in the Architecture, Art, and Planning Dean’s Office, based upon which a building permit was granted.

There are at least five serious Code violations that I have noticed in these new drawings:

1. The art gallery will become a fifth story as soon as even temporary pavilions are constructed. As such, these pavilions would not be permitted under the Code, even given the already egregious assumptions made about Code compliance for the proposed 4-story building. Because these pavilions are not shown in the drawings, any such construction will require a new building permit, even if the pavilions are only temporary. The pavilions will not be compliant if the Code is followed, since an A-3 assembly space (art gallery with pavilions) is not permitted above the third floor of a sprinklered Type II-B building, and certainly not on the fifth floor.

2. The entire egress strategy for the building, based on having unenclosed interior exit stairs in the atrium, is flawed, to the extent that it is based on 2015 IBC Section 1023.2, exception 2. This section allows interior exit stairways to forgo construction of otherwise required fire-barrier enclosures if they are within an atrium enclosed per 2015 IBC Section 404.6.

However, 2015 IBC Section 404.6 requires the atrium to be separated from adjacent spaces (not only adjacent “stories” but any adjacent “spaces”) by a 1-hour horizontal assembly (and/or fire barrier). There is an occupied space above the atrium (the roof-top art gallery) and yet a 1-hour fire-rated horizontal assembly is not provided that would separate the atrium from the art gallery above. In fact, there are even roof hatches designed to pop open in the event of fire, between the art gallery and the atrium, a strategy which completely violates both the spirit and letter of this Code requirement. Since the requirements of Section 404.6 are not met, having unenclosed interior exit stairways in the atrium is not permitted (and, of course, the atrium itself is noncompliant).

3. Along those lines, the architect’s Code drawings incorrectly state that the second-floor slab provides a non-required 1-hour horizontal fire barrier as per variance 2015-0432. First, there is no such thing as a horizontal fire barrier (it would be called a horizontal assembly). Second, this 1-hour fire rating is not discretionary, but is absolutely required, in order to separate the first floor occupancy from the atrium above. It does not provide “extra” fire safety beyond Code requirements, as is implied.

4. The atrium is improperly labeled; it is drawn as if it consisted of the entire space within the exterior walls of Rand Hall, above the first floor and excluding the “bump” on the southern side. In fact, the atrium consists only of an “opening connecting two or more stories” and not the stories themselves. Therefore, all the stack floor areas are not part of the atrium itself, but are simply stories, adjacent to the atrium, for which atrium smoke calculations must be made. This means that the justification for the roof-top mezzanine is flawed, since it is based on a calculation that its area is no greater than 1/2 the area of the “atrium” it is in. But the mezzanine as drawn is not “in” the atrium; only the stair to the mezzanine is conceivably in the atrium, while the rest of the mezzanine is directly over the stack floors and the mechanical room serving Milstein Hall. It therefore does not qualify as a mezzanine, but would be considered a fifth story.

5. Glazed openings in Stairway A appear to be too close to glazed openings in the southern wall of Rand Hall (unless this glass has a sufficient fire-rating, which is not indicated in the drawings I have examined). Per 2015 IBC Section 1023.7: “Where nonrated walls or unprotected openings enclose the exterior of the stairway or ramps and the walls or openings are exposed by other parts of the building at an angle of less than 180 degrees, the building exterior walls within 10 feet horizontally of a nonrated wall or unprotected opening shall have a fire-resistive rating of not less than 1 hour. Openings within such exterior walls shall be protected by opening protectives having a fire protection rating of not less than 3/4 hour. This construction shall extend vertically from the ground to a point 10 feet above the topmost landing of the stairway or ramp, or to the roof line, whichever is lower.”

[Update Aug 26, 2018: Correction made to the statement in the second paragraph contending that prior Code variances were for a 3-story building. In fact, Cornell’s third, 2016, variance was for a 4-story building, although its logic was entirely flawed. Since the current proposal, purported to be for a 4-story building, is actually for a 5-story building, the argument I am making—that prior variances do not apply to the current proposal—still stands.]

Taxi

Harry Chapin was, briefly in the early 1960s, an architecture student at Cornell University. Thankfully, that career choice short-circuited and, after several other initiatives (including an Academy Award-nominated boxing documentary that he wrote and directed in 1968), he ended up as a rather successful singer-songwriter in the 1970s. I arranged and recorded this version of his hit song from 1972, “Taxi,” at home in Ithaca, NY.

I actually went to see Chapin play a benefit concert at Cornell, when I was an architecture student there, perhaps around 1973 or 1974. He was an excellent performer and it was a memorable concert which, in addition to Taxi, included a song he wrote when he was a student at Cornell, about taking the Greyhound bus back to NYC: “Take the Greyhound/ It’s a dog of a way to get around/ Take the Greyhound/ It’s a dog gone easy way to get you down.” If my memory serves me well, the benefit event also featured Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden.

More of my covers, as well as original songs, can be found here.

New Rand Hall windows invite bird collisions

According to the Rand Hall Fine Arts Library’s June 18 to June 29, 2018 construction activity highlights and project update: “A full mock up window has been installed on the northern facade. It can be viewed from the sidewalk on University Avenue.”

Rand Hall’s highly reflective trial window appears as an opening to sky and trees, inviting bird collisions.

Based on the trial window, shown in the image above, it seems likely that these highly-reflective windows will be problematic for birds: the windows appear (to the birds) as openings to trees and sky, thereby inviting collisions. There are better bird-safe glazing techniques that are widely known, for example using patterns on the glass that mimic the multi-pane steel-framed “factory” windows that were recently removed. For more information, see the American Bird Conservancy website.

[Update: July 9, 2018] Here’s another image of the same highly-reflective window.

Another image of Rand Hall’s highly-reflective glazing.

Additional writings and blog posts on the Rand Hall Fine Arts Library project are linked here.

What LEED Gold Certification Gets You

I just read an article in the May 2018 ASHRAE JOURNAL about Discover Elementary School in Arlington, Va. designed by VMDO Architects; it is currently the largest zero energy elementary school built in the US. It’s interesting to compare its size, cost, and “sustainable” qualities with Cornell’s LEED gold-certified Milstein Hall, the architecture building designed by OMA and Rem Koolhaas. Both are two-story academic buildings.

  Size (sq. ft.) Cost ($ millions) OFF-SITE Energy USED
Discover 97,000 32.3 None
Milstein 50,000 60+ Lots

So, in a nutshell, Milstein Hall is half the size, twice the cost,* and barely meets minimum ASHRAE energy standards,** while the Arlington school actually returns energy to the grid.

Aerial views of the Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, VA (top) and Milstein Hall at Cornell University (bottom)

*To be clear, the Arlington school is half the cost and twice the size; in other words, its cost per square foot is approximately 25% that of Milstein Hall.

**Cornell’s stated goal (see my video) since 2008 is for new buildings “to use 30% less energy than current energy standards and strive towards 50% less energy.” Milstein Hall’s energy model projects a whopping 2% energy reduction compared to this minimum standard.

Handrail problem in Milstein Hall

Milstein Hall, the architecture facility at Cornell designed by OMA and Rem Koolhaas, has a “growing” handrail problem: the vines intended to cover the exterior egress stairway have penetrated the metal grid on which they’re supported, and have rendered the handrail noncompliant.

Vines intended to cover the exterior egress stair for Milstein Hall have penetrated inside the structure and rendered the handrail noncompliant (photo by J. Ochshorn, May 28, 2018)

Handrails must be continuous; the NYS Building Code has this advice: “Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.”

You Can Close Your Eyes: New Cover

I recorded James Taylor’s 1971 classic, “You Can Close Your Eyes” and made a quick video using the new Final Cut Pro video editing software that I got with my new iMac.

 

Between writing and recording new songs, I’ve been recording covers that were somehow meaningful to me, in chronological order starting with 1963’s Surfer Girl (Beach Boys). All my music, with links to additional videos, can be found here.

I saw James Taylor at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester during my senior year in high school, in 1970. I had already been playing guitar for about 6 years; seeing him perform solo (just voice and guitar) was unforgettable and I’ve been a fan ever since. “You Can Close Your Eyes” came out the following year and became one of my favorites. Beginning about 20 years after that, I starting singing it as a bedtime lullaby for my children.

I also finally created a video for my prior original song, If I Could Sing Like That.
 

Squints on a Triple at Thumbnail

I hosted yesterday’s “Thumbnail” PechaKucha-style 20×20 event at Cornell, whose theme was “taboo.”

Poster for “Taboo” Thumbnail event held at Cornell on April 13, 2018.

As part of the opening monologue, I performed my 2008 song, “Squints on a Triple.”

Three “sketchers” (students in the department of architecture) documented the event in real time

Information about the song, including lyrics and video, can be found here; or go directly to the 2008 YouTube video to see the famous Scrabble game reenacted.

I’ve also recently compiled many of my original songs, including “Squints on a Triple,” in three “Greatest Hits” albums (Squints can be found in Volume 1).

Thirty-four of my “greatest hits” are now available as downloads or streams on three albums

Stream all the songs on Spotify and other digital platforms. Or purchase (and preview) on CD Baby, Amazon, or iTunes.