Author Archives: jonochshorn

In Memoriam, Rand Hall 1912–2017

Rand Hall at Cornell University, third floor, Dec. 2017, before demolition

Only the brick shell of Rand Hall will remain after its “renovation”; the historically and culturally resonant interior—the entire structure above the second-floor slab including the third floor shown here, along with all exterior clerestory and steel frame factory windows—is being gutted and replaced by an overblown expression of architectural vanity and adolescent posturing: “look at me!” say the hanging book stacks. The low-value spaces that have proved so useful and flexible over the past 105 years are being replaced by a high-value single-use inflexible space that is already obsolete before it is even completed, an epic squandering of physical and monetary resources. More information can be found here. (Photo by Jonathan Ochshorn, Dec. 2017)

Problematic egress path in E. Sibley Hall at Cornell

On May 22, 2017, updating an earlier blog post (Egress, toilets, and carcinogens: Cornell’s transition plans during Fine Arts Library construction), I wrote that “transferring outside air from a corridor into the digital fabrication lab would not be compliant with the 2015 Mechanical Code. However, since the corridor seems to be now labeled as a room (‘collaborative area’), it’s probably legal, but barely. The opportunistic and ad hoc manner in which such design decisions are, and have been made, does not inspire confidence.” It is now apparent that the actual use of this new “room”/corridor has confirmed my fears: the ability of this “collaborative area” to function properly as part of an egress path has been seriously undermined by the types of activities assigned to the space.

Combustible trash interferes with egress on the 2nd floor of Sibley Hall (photo by J. Ochshorn, Dec. 3, 2017)

Bathroom battles take an ugly turn

I’ve written about the impending bathroom crisis for the Department of Architecture at Cornell here and here, caused by the renovation of Rand Hall. When this renovation begins, there will only be a single men’s toilet available for the entire 32,000 square foot floor area comprising the second floor studio and office spaces in Milstein and E. Sibley Hall. As hordes of desperate students and faculty from the second floor trek up to the “private” third floor Frances Shloss studios, it is inevitable that faculty and students on the third floor will take retaliatory action. As they say, the writing is on the wall.

Third-floor students and faculty take action to prevent hordes of desperate second-floor men from overwhelming their own “facility” (photo and Photoshopped sign by Jonathan Ochshorn, October 2017)

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.