Author Archives: jonochshorn

If You See Her, Say Hello

I’m up to 1975 in my chronological covers of popular music: That must mean it’s time for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. I chose the heart-felt, guitar-oriented ballad called “If You See Her, Say Hello” but decided to perform it on piano instead. the harmonica I play at the beginning and end does not appear in Dylan’s recording, nor does the alarm on my watch which went off somewhere in the middle of the song. But, hey, it’s a live recording, and the alarm was more or less in tune.

 

 
More of my covers and original songs can be found here.

Fine Arts Library code complaint filed with New York State

Today, I filed a formal complaint with the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes concerning fire- and life-safety violations in the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University. This complaint contains essentially the same material that I submitted to the City of Ithaca on April 1, 2019, but in addition contains, as an appendix, the City of Ithaca’s response, along with my commentary on their response.

Links to all my writings about the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University can be found here.

Flexibility and its discontents

I presented a paper called “Flexibility and its discontents: Colquhoun’s critique of the Pompidou Center,” at the 107th annual meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) — the conference was called BLACK BOX: Articulating Architecture’s Core in the Post-Digital Era — at Carnegie Mellon University, March 28–30, 2019. The proceedings have not yet been published, but you can read the paper here.

Stewart Brand’s revised diagram of time-based building systems, based on Frank Duffy’s categories, but with two more S’s and some changed names (“site, structure, skin, services, space plan, and stuff”), each with its own characteristic time-frame for repair, maintenance, or replacement (image by J. Ochshorn adapted from an image by Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn, p.13, which was, in turn, adapted from an image by Frank Duffy)

Cornell, following Trumpian playbook, refuses to release Ryan-Biggs report

Figure 1. Cornell Chronicle parody headline created by J. Ochshorn

After I noticed column misalignment, slack tension cables, unintended girder curvature, and sloping attic joists in the newly-renovated Frances Shloss Studios on the third floor of East Sibley Hall, I requested information from Cornell about its structural design and, on March 21, 2018, was provided with a structural conditions assessment that had been prepared by Ryan-Biggs Associates in 2009, as well as four pages of structural plans prepared by Robert Silman Associates in March 2015.

On April 2, 2018, based on my examination of these documents, I sent a detailed, though speculative, critique of the structural design to various interested parties, including the director of facilities for Cornell, the director of facilities for the College, and the Director of Code Enforcement for the City of Ithaca. My critique suggested that the consulting engineer’s structural analysis was flawed, not only misrepresenting the behavior of the existing structure but detailing new structural elements that might well have triggered or worsened structural misalignments in the nineteenth-century building. The next day, Ithaca’s Director of Code Enforcement sent me the following note: “Thank you very much for copying me on your email, as of yesterday I am following up on it. Based on your excellent detailed analysis and photos documenting the conditions, I share your concern.”

Cornell—rather than heeding my advice to engage the services of an independent consulting engineer who was not involved in producing the Assessment report or the structural drawings for the E. Sibley renovation—hired Ryan-Biggs Associates to assess the conditions in East Sibley Hall, the same firm that did the initial conditions assessment in 2009. It took over a year for this process to come to a conclusion and, having finally received the report from Ryan-Biggs, Cornell is now refusing to release it. I received the following explanation from the College’s facility director on May 3, 2019: “Hi Jonathan, The report was paid for and is the property of Facilities & Campus Services. It isn’t a public document that I can share. However, I can share that the final results showed that the East Sibley structure is sound and there is no need for additional reinforcement at this time.”

Hence, the Cornell Chronicle parody headline above (Figure 1). I have not been told what top-secret or otherwise sensitive information is in the report that precludes its release. The original structural engineer for the third-floor renovation, Robert Silman—who died in 2018—is a well-respected Cornell alumnus who, as explained here, was influential in directing some of architect Edgar Tafel’s estate to Cornell as a gift. Is there something in the Ryan-Biggs report that might implicate Silman’s firm in a negative or embarrassing way? Is the condition of East Sibley Hall “sound” because of their structural design, or in spite of their structural design? How did the latest Ryan-Biggs report model current structural conditions (i.e., as conventional roof rafters creating an outward thrust or as a collection of unstable mechanisms tending to rotate inward)? Was a dynamic analysis used to assess the response of this highly unusual structure to wind and earthquake forces? How were nineteenth-century clamps—intended to connect girders to the columns for gravity loads only—assessed in terms of their capacity to resist dynamic tension forces induced by winter blizzards or seismic events (Figure 2)? Were members of Cornell’s facilities staff embarrassed by their role as facilitators of this flawed design project? Or did the report conclude that all structural design assumptions for the third-floor renovation were valid, that the supervision and execution of the project was properly done, and that, therefore, all of my concerns were unfounded? None of these questions can be answered unless Cornell releases the report. The City of Ithaca Building Division should require Cornell to submit the report as evidence that the structural renovation meets standards outlined in the New York State Building Code (thereby making the report public), but the Building Department has shown little interest in holding Cornell accountable when it comes to Code compliance.

Finally, the misalignment of the third-floor East Sibley columns—whether caused by or just exacerbated by the Shloss Studio renovations; and whether presenting an imminent threat to safety or not—should be corrected.

Figure 2. The left image shows column misalignment on the third floor of East Sibley Hall, with tension cables effectively pulling the columns further out of vertical alignment; the right image shows a nineteenth-century clamp connecting girders to columns, a fastener never intended to resist tension forces induced by the columns pushing laterally on the girders (photos by J. Ochshorn, May 4, 2019)

On a related note, Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) has also refused to include news about my Title-19 code complaint—which outlines numerous life- and fire-safety violations in the Rand Hall Mui Ho Fine Arts Library—in its “News & Events” postings, or any of its other social media venues. Demonstrating contempt for academic freedom by engaging in egregious “viewpoint discrimination,” Cornell AAP has chosen to censor my critique of life- and fire-safety violations, not because it isn’t newsworthy or of interest to its target audience, but because Cornell administrators oppose its point of view and, apparently, fear an open and vigorous debate about these important issues.

Formal building code complaint submitted about Cornell’s Fine Arts Library

I submitted a formal code complaint today about the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University. As far as I can tell, the project—under construction and expected to open before the Fall 2019 semester begins—has at least nine substantial fire safety and life safety violations, all explained in my complaint document:

Violation #1: Unenclosed egress stair in the atrium.

Violation #2: Inadequate number of plumbing fixtures in the roof-top bathrooms.

Violation #3: Fifth floor incorrectly labeled as mezzanine within the atrium.

Violation #4: Lack of 1-hour horizontal assembly between the atrium and roof-top spaces.

Violation #5: Smoke control system does not protect building occupants.

Violation #6: Elevator too small for an ambulance stretcher.

Violation #7: Allowable story height exceeded for library occupancy without Type I construction.

Violation #8: Allowable floor area is exceeded at the second story.

Violation #9: Vertical openings in bookstack floors.

This schematic section through Rand Hall (Figure 8 in my formal code complaint; drawn by J. Ochshorn) illustrates just one of the nine code violations I have identified: a smoke control system that does not “provide a tenable environment for the evacuation or relocation of occupants” as the New York State Building Code requires.

All of my writings about the Rand Hall library project are linked from this website.

ICC Code opinion confirms fire safety problems in Cornell’s Fine Arts Library

[Updated below: Feb. 27, 2019] I have just received written confirmation from a Senior Staff Architect at the International Code Council (ICC) that the unenclosed stairs in Cornell’s Fine Arts Library atrium are noncompliant with the International Building Code (IBC), and that the roof-top gallery above the atrium is also noncompliant as designed. The 2015 New York State Building Code is derived from the IBC and contains the same Code language cited in the Code opinion by ICC. Of course, this Code opinion has no legal force, but it does indicate that the fire safety problems I have identified are real and need to be addressed. Here is the written opinion in full: 


Date: Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 11:17 AM
Re:  2015 IBC Sections 404.6, 1005.3.1, 1017.3.1, 1019, 1023.1, 1023.2,
 
Question 1:  Can the path of egress travel to an exit pass through more than one adjacent story in an atrium?
 
Answer 1:  There is nothing saying someone could not follow the stairway in the atrium as a path of egress travel for as many stories as they wanted.  However, if the stairway in the atrium is a considered a required exit access stairway, the egress path for the required means of egress (i.e. number of exits off of a floor) can only go down one story till occupants could choose to move to the required exits (1006.3.1, 1017.3.1, 1019).  If the stairway in the atrium is considered a required exit stairway, while Section 1023.2 Exception 2 does allow for the atrium to meet the construction requirements for the exit stairway, the atrium must meet all the remaining provisions for an exit stairway in Section 1023, including termination at the exterior, not be used for any other purpose other than exit (e.g. no uses on the ground floor of the atrium) and no paths that go through the atrium to get to the 2nd exit.
 
Question 2:  Can an unenclosed interior exit stairway, as permitted in Section 1023.2 Exception 2, terminate in the middle of an atrium floor that is above the level of exit discharge.
 
Answer 2:  No.  Exit stairways must discharge directly to the exterior (1023.1) and cannot stop at an upper floor.  There are the options for the stairway to discharge through a lobby or vestibule (1028), however, this lobby cannot be within the stairway/atrium enclosure and it cannot be at other than the level of exit discharge.
 
Question 3:  Does an occupied roof (Group A-2 assembly) above an atrium need to be separated from the atrium with a 1-hour horizontal assembly?
 
Answer 3:  Yes, an atrium must be separated from occupied spaces.  While a roof is not a story, it is an occupied space, so it must be separated from the atrium where the floor of the occupied roof is over the atrium.  Where an occupied roof floor is around the atrium, a separation would not be required.
 
Code opinions issued by ICC staff are based on ICC-published codes and do not include local, state or federal codes, policies or amendments. This opinion is based on the information which you have provided. We have made no independent effort to verify the accuracy of this information nor have we conducted a review beyond the scope of your question. This opinion does not imply approval of an equivalency, specific product, specific design, or specific installation and cannot be published in any form implying such approval by the International Code Council. As this opinion is only advisory, the final decision is the responsibility of the designated authority charged with the administration and enforcement of this code.
 
I hope that this answers your question in full.  Please feel free to contact me again if you have any additional questions on this issue.
 
“Copyright © 2018 International Code Council, Inc. All rights reserved.”
 
Kimberly Paarlberg, RA
International Code Council
Codes and Standards, Senior Staff Architect
5332 Woodfield Drive, Carmel, IN
888-422-7233, Ext. 4306

 

[February 27, 2019 update: I just received a code interpretation from the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes that agrees in full with the ICC answers shown above (“We reached the same conclusions as did the ICC representative, Kimberly Paarlberg”). I have forwarded their response to the City of Ithaca Director of Code Enforcement and other parties involved in this fiasco. Depending on how they react, I may well need to file a formal complaint.]

Links to all my writings on the Fine Arts Library at Cornell can be found here.

When My Father Was My Age

I began writing this song in February, 2018, and finished it (and recorded it) in November, 2018. The tracks are done separately and sequentially, although the guitar and piano tracks were videotaped live. Aside from the guitar and piano, and of course my vocals and background vocals, I added drums, bass, and strings using Logic Pro X “software instruments” played live on my midi keyboard, and also a live harmonica track for the instrumental solos.

 

The song lyrics refer to my father and his early death at the age of 53; and also my journey with my brother and our wives to find his grave many years later, near the border of Queens and Brooklyn. I made a video six years ago (October 2012) about that trip, which can be found here. In a way, this song is a belated soundtrack for the earlier video.

Speaking of videos, I made this one using Final Cut Pro, incorporating numerous clips from the 2012 video (which was shot with a Flip low-res camcorder) and a few family photos. The new clips of me singing, and playing harmonica, guitar, and keyboards, are all shot at home with my refurbished iPod Touch mounted on a tripod.

More of my music can be found here.

When My Father Was My Age
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2018

Verse 1
When my father was my age
He’d been dead for thirteen years
So he never held my daughter and never saw my son
It was cigarettes and rage
That were gumming up the gears
With a final stroke the motor broke there was nothing to be done

Verse 2
I still hear my brother saying
That the body can be found
Just south of Myrtle Avenue near the Glendale CVS
Well it must have been decaying
Thirty years beneath the ground
Where grass conceals but stone reveals his posthumous address

Chorus
Try your best to find him
If there’s something that might bind him to you
Just lock it up and walk away
Sing a song about him
But live your life without him
Better save it for a rainy day

Verse 3
There’s a man gesticulating
On a trail that finally ended
At a marker for grave twelve out in lot eleven
And we all were speculating
That his soul was still suspended
Twisting turning if not burning between hell and heaven

[Chorus][Instrumental break][Chorus]

Verse 4
At the time it was no bother
When we waited three more days
For another spot to be prepared for his second wife
“Beloved husband and father”
Is that all they found to praise?
No pain no laugh no epitaph can summarize his life. [Chorus]

Ticonderoga Moon

I just recorded a cover of “Ticonderoga Moon,” written by John and Johanna Hall, and recorded by Orleans in 1973. The song title appears in the lyrics of a song that I wrote recently called If I Could Sing Like That: “Sometimes we’d walk down to the inlet just to hear our favorite tune / I can still remember Orleans playing ‘Ticonderoga Moon’ / You’d get me dancing on that dusty floor a bit out of control / We’d leave A Salty Dog but not before / The sound was etched into our soul.”

 

 

I recorded and videotaped this cover of Ticonderoga Moon totally live (guitar and lead vocal); then the piano was recorded and videotaped live; and finally I played software drums and bass live on my midi keyboard, without any click track. I then added the harmonica, but did not actually videotape that performance live, so what you see on the video is just a simulation. And same for the backup/background/backing vocals: the twin Jonathans in the video are just lip-syncing the two tracks of vocals that I added to the chorus.

Thumbnail: HOLES

If you missed the original performance, here is a reenactment of my “Thumbnail” presentation, based on the theme of “holes,” that took place in Milstein Auditorium, Cornell University, on Nov. 16, 2018. It ends with a recitation of the first two verses of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which contain the lines: “His soul’s escaping through this HOLE that is gaping…”

 

According to the Thumbnail “Hole” event notice: “Thumbnail follows the Pecha Kucha format — 20 slides, 20 seconds each — to create an interdisciplinary platform for the exchange of various viewpoints, ideas, and topics that affect our everyday. [sic]”

You can check out my acoustic cover of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” as well as other covers and original compositions, here.