My Cornell “Chats in the Stacks” book talk video posted

Title: “Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression”

Cornell’s YouTube video of my April 14, 2022, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Chats in the Stacks” book talk (a virtual event) was posted today.

In a free, live, virtual “Chats in the Stacks” book talk, Jonathan Ochshorn discusses his latest book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression (Lund Humphries, 2021), where he examines how utilitarian function in architecture can be thwarted by political and economic forces, and undermined by artistic expression. In considering several contemporary buildings and projects, Ochshorn avoids advocating for a specific style or practice but provides an objective framework for analyzing architecture through the lens of utility.

Sponsored by the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library, Cornell University, the talk is followed by a live Q&A.

Op-Ed on Bad Building in The Architect’s Newspaper

Logo for the Architect's Newspaper digital editionI wrote an op-ed that was just published in The Architect’s Newspaper with the rather unwieldy, but nevertheless accurate, title, “Bad Building: Architecture’s Aesthetics Should Support, rather than Sabotage, a Building’s Function.” The argument in the op-ed derives from my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression.

Cornell welcomes alumni to Arts Quad with ADA noncompliance

[Updated below, June 8, 2022 and July 17, 2022] This morning, I sent an email to Cornell facilities and accessibility staff, as well as the Ithaca Building Division, alerting them to “protruding objects” on the Arts Quad:

To all concerned with access compliance on the Cornell campus:

I noticed today (June 4, 2022) that guy-lines stabilizing a Cornell Arts Quad tent are in violation of ADA and NYS Building Code requirements for access along circulation paths. They constitute “protruding objects” and, as such, are illegal and dangerous.

The United States Access Board states: “To prevent hazards to people with vision impairments, the standards limit the projection of objects into circulation paths. These requirements apply to all circulation paths and are not limited to accessible routes. Circulation paths include interior and exterior walks, paths, hallways, courtyards, elevators, platform lifts, ramps, stairways, and landings.”

The New York State Building Code requires that “At least one accessible route within the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance served.” Chapter 10 (Means of egress) states that “Protruding objects on circulation paths shall comply with the requirements of Sections 1003.3.1 through 1003.23.4” and Section 1003.3.3 confirms that “Objects with leading edges more than 27 inches (685 mm) and not more than 80 inches (2030 mm) above the floor shall not project horizontally more than 4 inches (102 mm) into the circulation path.” Circulation path is defined in Chapter 2 of the Code as “An exterior or interior way of passage from one place to another for pedestrians.”

[June 8, 2022 Update] Cornell has placed cane-detection barriers in front of most, but not all, of the noncompliant guy-lines on the Arts Quad. In the photo below, the circulation path is protected in one direction only:

Tent guy-lines remain unprotected on the Cornell Arts Quad

[July 17, 2022 Update] A new tent has been set up on the Arts Quad (see image below), and it has the same issue with ADA noncompliance as was discussed in the June 8, 2022 update above: the cane detection barrier works from the outside-in, but not from the inside-out. Clearly, people move along circulation paths in two directions, and ADA compliance is required for both of them! Guy-lines that stabilize tents become noncompliant protruding objects when they pass through circulation paths between the heights of 27 inches and 80 inches.

Book talk for CSI Syracuse

I’ll be giving a talk on “Control Layers, Abstraction, and Utilitarian Dysfunction,” based on my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression. Details follow:

Date: March 3, 2022, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Format: Zoom meeting / Webinar

CSI Syracuse logo

This continuing education program is FREE for CSI members, and $20 for non-members (Notice: Any money raised will go towards the Edward Goldberg Memorial Scholarship Fund). This program has AIA Continuing Education Credits PENDING (1 LU/HSW Credit).

Sponsored by the Syracuse Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)

Sign up to attend the talk here.

Information about the book is here.

Cornell: Annals of accessibility

[Updated May 5, 2022 (scroll to bottom)] Two years ago, I wrote to administrators at Cornell University, advising them that “protruding objects” designed into a food truck behind Milstein and Sibley Halls were in violation of the ADA as well as the New York State Building Code.

The United States Access Board states: “To prevent hazards to people with vision impairments, the standards limit the projection of objects into circulation paths. These requirements apply to all circulation paths and are not limited to accessible routes. Circulation paths include interior and exterior walks, paths, hallways, courtyards, elevators, platform lifts, ramps, stairways, and landings.”

The New York State Building Code requires that “At least one accessible route within the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance served.” Chapter 10 (Means of egress) states that “Protruding objects on circulation paths shall comply with the requirements of Sections 1003.3.1 through 1003.23.4” and Section 1003.3.3 confirms that “Objects with leading edges more than 27 inches (685 mm) and not more than 80 inches (2030 mm) above the floor shall not project horizontally more than 4 inches (102 mm) into the circulation path.” Circulation path is defined in Chapter 2 of the Code as “An exterior or interior way of passage from one place to another for pedestrians.”

Annotated photo of food truck at Cornell University showing noncompliance with ADA standards for protruding objects

This image shows the protruding objects in the circulation path by the food truck behind Sibley/Milstein Halls at Cornell (photo and annotations by J. Ochshorn)

On the two-year anniversary of my first email, I again requested that Cornell remediate this illegal and dangerous situation, embedding several annotated photographs into my Jan. 14, 2022 email that illustrate one possible method of permanently fixing this problem:

Food truck behind Sibley/Milstein Halls at Cornell University showing two protruding objects

Metal “fins” attached to the food truck behind Milstein/Sibley Halls at Cornell University could be altered to comply with ADA requirements.

Detail of metal fin at food truck behind Milstein/Sibley Halls at Cornell University showing one possible method of remediation for ADA noncompliance.

Metal “fins” on the food truck could be cut in order to comply with ADA guidelines for protruding objects.

Existing and proposed remediation of protruding objects on food truck behind Milstein/Sibley Halls at Cornell University.

“Before” and “after” images showing proposed remediation of protruding objects on food truck behind Milstein/Sibley Halls at Cornell University (photos and Photoshopping by J. Ochshorn).

[May 5, 2022 Update] Soon after my January 14, 2022, email, a moveable sign was placed under one of the noncompliant protruding fins (image below), something clearly inadequate, since the sign could be (and was) moved from its intended position. I complained about the inadequacy of this remedy.

Sign placed under noncompliant protruding object at Cornell University

Amazingly, a few months later — about 4 months after my January 2022 design suggestions and more than two years after my initial complaint — I discovered that the noncompliant metal fins had been trimmed, pretty much as I had specified in my photoshopped renderings: the newly-compliant food truck is shown below.

Noncompliant protruding object at Cornell University cut so that it no longer protrudes.

Noncompliant protruding object at Cornell University cut so that it no longer protrudes.

Tainted Love

I just recorded a cover of Tainted Love, the 1982 U.S. hit by the English synthpop duo, Soft Cell. It turns out that this song, written by Ed Cobb, was recorded back in 1964 by Gloria Jones, but I never heard that version until recently. My version doesn’t have much in common with either the 1964 or 1982 recordings, probably because it’s the lyrics rather than the music that always intrigued me about this song: such an interesting way of characterizing a damaged (‘tainted”) relationship!

I recorded the song essentially live (vocals and keyboards) over a click track; then created drum, bass, and organ tracks using “software instruments” in Login Pro, played “live” on my Yamaha MIDI-enabled keyboard, and finally added some backup vocals. The glass curtain wall that I added to the video in Final Cut Pro is actually the north wall of Milstein Hall at Cornell University — looking into the basement auditorium — designed by Rem Koolhaas and OMA.

Find links to all my songs and music videos here.

Launchpad book event at Cornell (Oct. 25, 2021 5pm)

The Milstein Hall “dome” or “crit room” takes the form of a whispering gallery, where sound is projected, reflected, and reinforced in a surprising and dysfunctional manner, such that the utilitarian function of the space — to hold critiques, receptions, and other events — is compromised. This lack of attention to the acoustical quality of the space reflects the architects’ evolving ideology rooted in formal expression, abstracted from most utilitarian considerations. Aside from its acoustic shortcomings, the crit room was also designed and built with only a single compliant fire exit, even though its occupancy and floor area required three such exits. (Cornell was forced to provide these missing, but required, exits by literally cutting through a reinforced concrete and glass wall that had originally been designed to separate the crit room from the adjacent auditorium.)

Thus, Milstein Hall’s crit room — its “dome” — is a perfect example of a space in which architectural utility is doubly damaged: first by utilitarian dysfunction (inadequate exits) and second, by the competition driving dysfunctional expression (resulting, here, in an acoustical travesty).

It it therefore fittingly ironic that the AAP “Launchpad” event, in which my book — Building Bad — will be one of eleven AAP faculty books being “launched,” has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm, precisely in this dysfunctional space. Faculty presenters were asked to prepare a 5-minute Pecha Kucha-style slide show, but I was given permission to show a 5-minute music video instead, based on a song that I wrote to celebrate the publication of my book.

I announce this with great trepidation, since there is no way to know how badly the acoustic qualities of the crit room space will mangle whatever musical qualities the song possesses. I therefore recommend that you not only attend the Launchpad event if you are in the Ithaca area (after all, there will be food and drinks served in that dark and abysmal space with the plastic bubbles that has been rebranded as the “Duane and Dalia Stiller Arcade” at 5:00 pm) but that you also check out my “Ballad of Building Bad” music video with headphones or an adequate sound system.

New version of Ballad of Building Bad

In anticipation of the official U.S. release of my book, Building Bad, on Sept. 30, 2021, I made a more fully orchestrated version of my song, Ballad of Building Bad, along with a new, more elaborated, music video.

The original “live” version of the song, along with some fun facts and lyrics, can be found on this prior blog post.

Links to all my music and music videos are here.