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.
“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!
I’ve been recording songs by other artists in chronological order — one for each year beginning in the early 1960s — and have now reached the end of the decade with “Sunlight,” a song written by Jesse Colin Young for the Youngbloods that was released in 1969 on their Elephant Mountain album.
I was an early fan of the Youngbloods because my uncle, who worked at RCA records, made sure we had all of their albums from the 1960s. “Sunlight” was always one of my favorite songs. I recorded this cover version live using one mic (well, I only have one mic) for the guitar and vocal. Live piano and bass (both Logic Pro software instruments, actually) were added later; all performances were captured live with my refurbished iPod Touch and edited in Final Cut Express.
I made this “trailer” to introduce a lecture in a class that I teach during the Fall term (Building Technology I: Materials & Methods); the class topic is working drawings, and I’ve been using Milstein Hall at Cornell as a case study.
Of course, the trailer is adapted from the movie version of Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, with Gary Cooper playing architect Howard Roark. For more information on Milstein Hall, designed by OMA/Koolhaas, see my critique and construction videos.
I started making flip books when I was 14 years old, in 1966. A second round of flip-book making took place 18 years later, although I don’t remember what motivated me to do this again at age 32. In any case, I found the old stapled-together books in a box in the attic and made this YouTube video. What you see below is actually a better way to view them (a gif animation), but takes more work:
I’ve written another song. Not much backstory, except to remark on the obvious — that it’s one more examination of aging — and except that I had been struggling with the lyrics for months. At a certain point, I felt the need to say it’s done, and to move on. Even the video betrays evidence of that impatience: I didn’t want to deal with audio-video syncing problems I’ve been experiencing using Final Cut Express (Apple’s old video editing platform), and so there are some noticeable time lags between voice and image, especially in the final verse. You can find lyrics and production notes here along with a thank you to brother Kurt for helping with the final mix in his Brooklyn basement studio.
Well, I finally got my 15 minutes of fame, playing piano at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on May 29, 2015.
Actually, the piano was a remnant of the “Play Me, I’m Yours” traveling piano art installation; and I had to perform one-handed, as my left hand was holding the low-resolution Flip camcorder with which I documented this short performance.
Cornell seems determined to create a series of building disasters on the entire north side of its historic arts quad. I’ve been discussing the problematic 100% schematic design proposal for a Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall recently. Also in the news lately is a lawsuit filed by Cornell against I.M. Pei’s new addition to the Johnson Museum. And Milstein Hall continues to self-destruct in both predictable and unexpected ways. The following videos describe a recent failure of the retaining wall and glass guard rail adjacent to Milstein Hall’s loading dock, as well as another leak in the green roof directly over the design studios.
The glass guard rail and retaining wall failure may have resulted from an inattention to the redesign of Milstein Hall when an underground parking structure was removed from the project as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. What was to be an ordinary reinforced concrete wall supporting the parking structure seems to have transformed into a retaining wall when the underground structure was canceled and replaced by soil, which exerts a lateral pressure, especially when saturated with water. Perhaps, thinking that someday the parking structure would be built, the wall was left in place, but without adequate attention paid to its new structural role. Water easily migrated through the construction joint between the building and the retaining wall, corroding reinforcement that for some reason connected the two structures. The detailing of the glass guard rail, as shown in this unedited construction video from August, 2011, also seems to help water get into the concrete wall by acting like a lever when subjected to horizontal loading, allowing small cracks to open up between the concrete wall and the metal channel which holds the glass in place.
The leak in Milstein Hall’s green roof is at least the third roof leaking incident since the building opened a few years ago. Students noticed water dripping on their desks in the vicinity of one of Milstein Hall’s many skylights; a large section of the green roof was subsequently removed so that the leak could be identified and repaired.
I gave an extemporaneous web talk for the faculti.net organization on Jan 29, 2015 on the subject of my 2014 paper, “Architecture’s Dysfunctional Couple: Design and Technology at the Crossroads.” This talk is now online.