Category Archives: Video

Movie trailer for Milstein Hall


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.

Flip books


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:

Just Need a Little Concentration


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.

The continuing saga of Milstein Hall’s nonstructural failure


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.

More building safety issues in East Sibley Hall at Cornell


I’ve described numerous fire safety problems in Milstein Hall, an addition to Rand and Sibley Halls at Cornell University that was designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA. While Cornell and its architects, along with the City of Ithaca Building Department, refused to acknowledge these problems until they were forced to, and continue to claim that nothing really serious was ever at stake, new building safety issues have emerged more recently, described in the video embedded below. The site for both of these issues is East Sibley Hall at Cornell: an exit sign pointing to a door that opens inward, and a noncompliant guard rail.

The case of the in-swinging door is puzzling on two counts. First, although the door isn’t required to be a legal exit, it’s not clear why it was designed (as part of the Milstein Hall project) to open inward, since such doors can be dangerous in a panic situation whether they’re legally required to open outward or not. Perhaps the architects were concerned that an out-swinging door would interfere with circulation patterns for an adjacent outside stair, also redesigned as part of the Milstein Hall project. This description of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire, in which 492 occupants were killed, shows that inward-acting doors can be deadly:

Other avenues of escape were similarly useless: side doors had been bolted shut to prevent people from leaving without paying. A plate glass window, which could have been smashed for escape, was boarded up and unusable as an emergency exit. Other unlocked doors, like the ones in the Broadway Lounge, opened inwards, rendering them useless against the crush of people trying to escape. Fire officials later testified that, had the doors swung outwards, at least 300 lives could have been spared. Many young soldiers perished in the disaster, as well as a newly married couple.

Second, it’s not clear why an exit sign pointing to this door was installed in the hallway of Sibley Hall, since it is not a legal exit, and is not required to be.

The case of the noncompliant guardrail is equally puzzling, since legal and compliant guards are neither hard to design, fabricate, or install. In this case, an existing stair with old fashioned and nonconforming guardrails was modified as part of a renovation of the third floor of East Sibley Hall for the Department of Architecture. Instead of replacing the guard at the top landing with a safe and legal one, a new guard was fabricated and installed that mimicked the dangerous conditions in the existing stair. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of  children are injured or die annually because of things like inadequate guards [link updated May 4, 2017]:

Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits for nonfatal injuries. 2.8 million children visited emergency departments for fall-related injuries in 2010; 40 percent of them were toddlers. On average, over 275,000 children suffer traumatic brain injuries annually from falls. Most of these fall-related deaths and injuries are predictable and preventable.

Increase amount and use of protective devices. For example, review building codes to ensure construction that limits fall hazards (e.g., requiring handrails in all stairwells and American Society for Testing and Materials-compliant window guards for windows on second story or higher).

In any case, Cornell fixed both the exit sign and the guard rail within a few days after I alerted them to the problems. Given the torturous history of prior building safety issues involving Milstein, Rand, and Sibley Halls, and in spite of the fact that serious mistakes are still being made, I take this as a sign of progress.

How the Crit Room and Room 261 E. Sibley got their exits


As Milstein Hall — part of Cornell University’s growing collection of buildings by Pritzker Laureates* — continues to crumble, crack, delaminate, effloresce, and otherwise betray its designers’ indifference to the actual matter** of building, Cornell is slowly addressing some fire safety problems that were an integral part of Milstein’s design legacy. Below are two videos that explain how the Crit Room in Milstein Hall and Room 261 in adjacent Sibley Hall got their second fire exits.

*Cornell’s collection of buildings by Pritzker Laureates includes — in order of appearance — Gordon Bunshaft’s Uris Hall, I.M. Pei’s Johnson Museum, James Sirling’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Richard Meier’s Weill Hall, Rem Koolhaas’s Milstein Hall, and Thom Mayne’s Gates Hall.

** I use the term “matter” in the following sense: “We consider that an Edifice is a Kind of Body consisting, like all other Bodies, of Design and of Matter; the first is produced by the Thought, the other by Nature; so that the one is to be provided by the Application and Contrivance of the Mind, and the other by due Preparation and Choice. And we further reflected, that neither the one nor the other of itself was sufficient, without the Hand of an experienced Artificer, that knew how to form his Materials after a just Design.” From the preface to Alberti’s On the Art of Building, printed by Edward Owen, London, in 1755 (a translation of the original text from 1485) and accessed online 3/15/15.

Icicles at Gates Hall


[updated below] It’s been quite cold in Ithaca this February, but that alone would not explain the presence of icicles in the middle of the soffit at the entrance of Gates Hall, the new computer science building at Cornell designed by Thom Mayne and Morphosis.

Could be a busted pipe — a fire sprinkler pipe burst at Richard Meier’s Weill Hall at Cornell a couple of years ago — or even leakage of warm humidified air from the space above. Don’t know yet, but will try to find out the cause.

[Update: Feb. 16, 2015] Facilities managers at Cornell, in response to my inquiry, have told me that the problem originated with a frozen/broken secondary roof drain pipe — this pipe presumably started off (and was poorly insulated) above heated interior space, and then moved into unheated space, where the melted snow from the roof froze again, causing the pipe to fail.