Dangerous (lack of) guardrail at Uris Library

Because toddlers, older children, and foolish adults fall off unprotected ledges, model building codes (and codes adopted by the various states, based on the model codes) require that guard rails be placed at such dangerous edges. The actual 2020 NYS Building Code language is as follows (Section 1015): “Guards shall be located along open-sided walking surfaces … that are located more than 30 inches (762 mm) measured vertically to the floor or grade below at any point within 36 inches (914 mm) horizontally to the edge of the open side.” In other words, if there is a vertical discontinuity at the edge of a walking surface of more than 30 inches (762 mm), even if that drop of 30 inches (762 mm) occurs up to three feet (914 mm) away from the edge of the walking surface, then a guard is required. Furthermore, the guard must be at least 42 inches (1067 mm) high and it must be configured such that a 4-inch-diameter (102 mm diameter) sphere cannot pass through. This latter requirement is intended to prevent children from sticking their heads through the guard and getting stuck (yes, this really happens!).

Now, I haven’t been able to track down the NYS Building Code in effect when the addition to Cornell’s Uris Library, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was designed and built in 1980–1982, but the lack of a compliant guard seems consistent with the standards currently in place and, presumably, with the standards in place in the early 1980s (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The addition to Uris Library at Cornell is altered using PhotoShop to show a more precipitous vertical drop from the walking surface (left); the addition is shown as it actually appears, still with a dangerous vertical drop from the walking surface (right). Photo and PhotoShop manipulation by Jonathan Ochshorn.

This is because, even though there is a vertical drop of much more than 30 inches (762 mm), this drop does not occur within 36 inches (914 mm) of the walking surface: there is a sloping ledge between the walking surface and the precipitous drop which appears to justify the lack of a code-compliant guard (the horizontal pipe rail at the edge of the walking surface does not comply with the requirement that a 4-inch-diameter (102 mm diameter) sphere, let alone a rambunctious toddler, cannot pass through. Yet, as can be seen in Figure 1, the condition is still quite dangerous, since a toddler or child (or spaced-out adult) could easily run through the open guard, slide down the inclined ledge, and fall to the ground below, possibly sustaining serious injuries.

Now, if the walking surface of the addition were at the top of a very tall building, as modeled in Figure 1, left, the architects may well have felt the need to make a safer guard rail, even though the building code would not have required that they do so! The as-built condition shown in Figure 1, right,  is also quite dangerous, and really should have a guard that meets the standards outlined in the building code.

It turns out that the International Code Council (ICC)—which writes the International Building Code (IBC), which, in turn, forms the basis of the New York State Building Code—has fixed this unsafe loophole in the 2024 IBC, not yet adopted in New York State (in fact, the older 2021 IBC has not even been adopted by New York State; as of this writing, New York State’s 2020 Building Code is actually based on the 2018 IBC!). The latest IBC adds “and at the perimeter of occupiable roofs” to the code section (1015.2) which describes where such guards are required. Since the walking surface at the top of the Uris Library addition is an “occupiable roof,” a safe guard rail would be required under that code.

Even though the current unsafe conditions are “grandfathered” under the older code, Cornell should modify the existing pipe rail and turn it into a real guard, as will eventually be required for new construction once the 2024 IBC is adopted.

New “vertical opening” calculator!

How does one make a vertical opening—a hole—in a single floor, or through multiple floors, while still being in compliance with the 2024 International Building Code (IBC)? This question is quite important, since architects like making holes in buildings. Even so, a code-compliant answer is surprisingly difficult to track down, especially since the fundamental fire-safety requirement for compartmentalization precludes the use of vertical openings and requires that all horizontal floor assemblies be continuous. In other words, at least at first glance, it appears that holes are not permitted at all.

An admittedly exaggerated image of a vertical opening (hole) in a floor. Image created by Jonathan Ochshorn using PhotoShop.

Fortunately, this basic prohibition of vertical openings is modified in countless ways. Yes, code language in the 2034 IBC, found in Section 711.2.2 of the IBC, starts with the requirement for absolute continuity of fire-resistance-rated horizontal assemblies (so that a fire is more likely to be contained within its floor of origin), but a rather important exception immediately follows: “Assemblies shall be continuous without vertical openings, except as permitted by this section and Section 712.” Practically speaking, Section 712 of the IBC provides the architect with various ways to create vertical openings that, at least in theory, provide protection against the spread of fire in ways that are more-or-less equivalent to the ideal of continuity in fire-resistance-rated horizontal floor assemblies. (Nonfire-resistance-rated floor assemblies, per Section 711.3.2, have similar requirements for continuity and allow the same exceptions.)

Of course, one can always make a hole or “shaft” legal by protecting it with a “shaft enclosure”—such things are covered in Section 713 of the IBC. But to make a real hole in a floor—to visually and spatially connect two or more levels by removing a portion of a floor-ceiling assembly—one of the protection methods listed in Section 712 must, in general, be used. Continue reading my paper on vertical openings in floors. Or go directly to my new and improved vertical opening calculator!

 

Is PhotoShop still relevant in the age of AI?

I tried out Cornell’s Microsoft Copilot Enterprise, which Cornell describes as “a way to experiment with generative AI,” and was, unsurprisingly, underwhelmed. In particular, the image-generating tool was inane and pretty much useless, and the Microsoft-provided explanatory material was simply embarrassing — it promoted such a dumbing down of critique and explanation that even Edward Tufte’s classic critique of Microsoft’s PowerPoint would need some sort of afterword.

It is in this context that I wonder about the continued relevance of Adobe’s PhotoShop, which — in the age of AI — seems to take on the character of an old-school graphic device, with a direct connection to the user’s intentions and control. So, if PhotoShop is dead, I say, “long live PhotoShop”!

Having just returned from a short trip to Spain, I began editing (with PhotoShop) some iPhone images that I took in several Madrid museums — in particular, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando:

Plaster cast of statue of Laocoön and His Sons, edited with PhotoShop to include iPhone (as if one of the figures, in anguish, is taking a selfie.

Plaster cast of Laocoön and His Sons in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid: iPhone photo taken and edited with PhotoShop (adding the iPhone used by one of the sons to take a selfie) by Jonathan Ochshorn.

Jacob Lucasz. Ochtervelt's Oyster Eaters; with the 17th-century lute replaced with a Gibson les Paul Standard electric guitar.

Jacob Lucasz. Ochtervelt, Oyster Eaters; ca. 1665 at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid: the 17th-century lute has been replaced, using PhotoShop, with a Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar by Jonathan Ochshorn.

Selfie taken in front of Picasso's 1923 Harlequin with a Mirror, with the "harlequin" taking a selfie at the same time, courtesy of PhotoShop.

Double selfie by Jonathan Ochshorn: a selfie taken in front of Picasso’s 1923 Harlequin with a Mirror, at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, with the “harlequin” taking a selfie at the same time, courtesy of PhotoShop.

Book presentation at AAP Launchpad event

I presented my latest book, OMA’s Milstein Hall, at Cornell AAP’s joint book launch event, called Launchpad, on April 17, 2024, at 5:30 PM. Details here. Because I was in Madrid for the 2024 ASHRAE International Building Decarbonization Conference, my presentation consisted of a 7-minute music video. I was thinking of adding something like, “Be there. Will be wild!,” but will resist the temptation. Bad taste.

The video was released on YouTube at the same time as the book launch event. Why not subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notices of such things!

Finally: my new 2021–2024 IBC Allowable Area Calculator!

I had created a free online calculator to determine allowable heights, number of stories, and floor area, based on various criteria in the International Building Code (IBC). This calculator, however, was getting old and out of date, so I finally revised it, based on the 2021 and 2024 IBC (the latest iterations currently available). It’s free and (relatively) easy to use, so try it out, here.

Generic site plan showing various parameters for the calculation of the area increase factor (for frontage).

Cornell concert posters from the early 1970s

Who says architects can’t do archival research? An email conversation got me thinking about a Persuasions concert from 1973 that I saw at Cornell when I was an architecture student (they opened for Stevie Wonder). Being at Cornell’s Olin Library to return a book, I decided to check out the trove of concert posters in the “Rare and Manuscript Collections” held at the Carl A. Kroch Library, an underground addition to Olin Library designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott that opened in 1992. Once there, I was presented with two large folders containing a sample of Cornell’s collection, including posters for at least two of the concerts I attended—not only Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions, but also Joni Mitchell playing with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. I should note that Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions played at Bailey Hall, so the acoustics were great; whereas Joni Mitchell played in Barton Hall, a large field house that’s great for lunchtime basketball or watching track events, but horrible for music.

I made a webpage containing photos that I took of samples from Cornell’s larger collection, from September 1972 (Elton John) to April 1975 (Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock).

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell's Bailey Hall March 30, 1973.

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell’s Bailey Hall March 30, 1973 (Ticket prices: $3.00–$4.00).

Adding insult to injury: Cornell deletes Rand Hall egress information

I’ve written about the many egregious fire safety violations in Rand Hall’s Mui Ho Fine Arts Library at Cornell, e.g., an article describing my “Appeal regarding building code violations in Cornell’s Fine Arts Library.”

So it’s entirely fitting that the college’s Spring 2024 events postcard would feature an image of the Rand roof deck with all egress information Photoshopped away!

Puzzle of the Heart (new version/remix)

In preparation for my upcoming “Greatest Hits Vol 4” album, I remixed my 2021 song, “Puzzle of the Heart,” by adding drums, bass, organ, and a touch of back-up vocals — starting at the second verse of the song.

This entailed straightening up the free-form, and somewhat uneven, tempo of the live performance, not only for the new Logic Pro X audio, but also for the new Final Cut Pro video. Having  made those subtle modifications, I was able to re-use most elements of the 2021 live video for this 2024 version (with the new 2024 soundtrack).

I Wish I Were a Bee (new version)

I wrote the chorus to this song when I was in high school, but only got around to writing the verses and bridge about 50 years later, i.e., just before first recording it live in January 2020. This is a new recording with a bit more orchestration and back-up vocals.

For those interested, the Sartre references are based on a cursory reading of Being and Nothingness (no, not the book; just the Wikipedia entry):
 
“From Sartre’s phenomenological point of view, nothingness is an experienced reality and cannot be a merely subjective mistake. The absence of a friend and absence of money hint at a being of nothingness. It is part of reality. In the first chapter, Sartre develops a theory of nothingness which is central to the whole book, especially to his account for bad faith and freedom. For him, nothingness is not just a mental concept that sums up negative judgements such as ‘Pierre is not here’ and ‘I have no money.’ Though ‘it is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation.’ the concrete nothingness differs from mere abstract inexistence, such as the square circle. A concrete nothingness, e.g. not being able to see, is part of a totality: the life of the blind man in this world. This totality is modified by the nothingness which is part of it.”
 
The idea that “man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have” is from Sartre’s “Temporalité,” in Situations (1947, 1949).
 
And the Kanye reference in the bridge is based on Mr. West’s similar claim that “everything I’m not, made me everything I am.”
 
I Wish I Were a Bee
Words and music by Jonathan Ochshorn 
© J. Ochshorn 2020
 
Chorus
I wish I were a bee
I wish I were a bee
No one would ever ask me
What I wanted to be
 
Verse 1
I hate all questions that presume some cultural identity
Defining who you are in terms of arbitrary norms
Some people get so obsessed with such a dubious ontology
That they become what they dress up as in their uniforms [Chorus]
 
Verse 2
My friend Jean-Paul’s apartment is somewhere on the second floor
I think perhaps apartment “B,” so down the hall I wander
I’m about to ring the bell but doubt sets in as I approach the door
Is it “2-B or not 2-B” — that’s the question that I ponder [Chorus]
 
[Instrumental Chorus]
 
Bridge
Kanye says everything you’re not makes you everything you are
Jean-Paul agrees that it isn’t the sum of what you have thus far
But rather the sum of what you don’t have or could have that really should prevail
Even if, in principle, all human actions are doomed to fail
 
Verse 3
I meet Jean-Paul at a café to talk about reality
His friend Pierre is still not there so we order bread and honey
He says that a concrete nothingness is part of a totality
As he leaves me staring at the bill while I run out of money [Chorus]
 
Links to all my music and videos: https://jonochshorn.com/music/

Blank Space

Celebrating Time‘s 2023 “Person of the Year,” here is my cover of Taylor Swift’s mega-hit from 2014, Blank Space. The song was re-released as “Taylor’s Version” in 2023.

The background image, visible in the thumbnail above, if of the Palau de la Música Catalana (Catalan Concert Hall) in Barcelona, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. In my cover version of the song, I do all the vocals and background vocals, piano, electric guitar, organ, bass, and drums (other than the guitar, the rest are actually “software” instruments played on my MIDI keyboard). I recorded the song using Logic Pro and made the video using Final Cut Pro.

Only true Swifties will understand the portion of the video where I’m in bed with my guitar. Hint: see this early Taylor Swift video.