I was asked by some architecture students to conduct a walking tour of the Cornell campus so, after some thought, I proposed a “Pritzker-plus” tour, taking in the six Cornell buildings designed by Pritzker laureates (i.e., Koolhaas, Pei, Stirling, Mayne, Meier, and Bunshaft) as well as some of by own favorite campus buildings (Uris Library’s A.D. White room, Thurston Hall, Duffield Hall, and Bradfield Hall). Google says this is a 2.5 mile (4 km) walk. We’re meeting at the “bubbles” in Milstein Hall’s Duane and Dalia Stiller Arcade at 10:00 AM, Friday, May 12, 2023.
Poster and map for my walking tour of Pritzker-plus buildings on Cornell’s campus: May 12, 2023.
It’s probably legal to store combustible material under an exit access stairway (i.e., an exit stair that is permitted to be unenclosed) even though it wouldn’t be allowed under an unenclosed exterior stair or an enclosed interior exit stair. But it’s probably not a good idea. I tested the combustibility of the foamed plastic used as display stands for architecture (and other) reviews and exhibits, here shown stored under the exit access stair in the domed Crit Room in Milstein Hall, Cornell’s architecture building designed by OMA. This video documents my combustibility test and explains the code issues.
In all 50,000 square feet of Milstein Hall at Cornell University, this is the only carpeted area — at the bottom of the auditorium. Still, it’s good enough for 1 LEED point!
I spoke to the second-year Bachelor of Architecture class at Cornell University about health, safety, and welfare — things like fire safety, structure, accessibility, and sustainability — and the role played by politics and architectural expression in constraining or even damaging those utilitarian functions of buildings. The talk was based in large part on my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression.
The lecture on March 13, 2023, ended up being way too long, so I delivered the final sections two days later, on March 15, 2023. I divided the Zoom lecture recordings into six parts, corresponding to the sections of the lecture, and I put them all online as separate videos (find links below).
Some light editing was in order: I removed most of my snarky remarks; eliminated copyrighted material (in particular, excerpts from Monty Python’s “Architects Sketch” had to go); corrected one or two words (e.g., “access” got changed to “axis”); and deleted as many “ums,” “rights,” and “you knows” as I could.
I’ve been working on my “Critique of Milstein Hall,” a project started in 2012, but — until now — missing the final section on “Function and Flexibility.” Well, that final section is still missing, but as I was working on it, I realized that I should really add a short section on accessibility.
So, I did.
Milstein Hall, the last building constructed for Cornell University’s architecture program, was designed by OMA, and is connected to two older campus buildings — Sibley Hall and Rand Hall. The Critique now has four sections: nonstructural failure, fire safety, accessibility, and sustainability. Function and flexibility should appear soon. Find links to all these sections on the Critique homepage here.
I performed four songs at a retirement event at the “Inns of Aurora” sponsored by Cornell’s Department of Architecture on January 27, 2023. This event was originally intended for the end of the spring 2022 semester (when I actually retired), but got delayed for various reasons, and then became a combined event for several other recent retirees who had not been celebrated previously because of Covid restrictions on gatherings.
In any event, my request to do a musical performance was still honored, and the resulting concert footage is embedded here. Well, not quite the original concert footage: I had earlier recorded a “practice” performance in my house which had much better audio than what was recorded at the actual event, so I synced this practice audio with the video clips of the real performance that were shot by my wife, Susan. Except that a clip for the first verse of the last song could not be found, so I lip-synced that verse at home, in front of a green screen, and simulated the performance of the first verse, which is now part of the official video.
These are unplugged — guitar-vocal versions — of four songs, three of which are about getting old (the first, “Endgame,” is an extended metaphor based on the game of chess; the second, “What’s the Point of Even Trying,” is taken from the standpoint of a child watching a parent get old; and the third, “Squints on a Triple,” is taken from the standpoint of a parent watching his child get older) with the last song, “Ballad of Building Bad,” being a critique of architecture (actually an advertisement for my book, Building Bad).
The songs that I perform live here can also be viewed in their original “music video” form (use links in the paragraph above).
I’m continually amazed by the availability of high-quality (if sometimes idiosyncratically framed) architectural images through Google’s street view. Finding public domain or Creative Commons images can be difficult when publishing architectural critiques and the copyrighted alternatives can be expensive — the screen captures (or screen recordings) made possible through the street view app are an under-appreciated resource!
This cover is based on the Willie Nelson version of “Almost On My Mind,” released in 1982, ten years after the song was first released by others, including Elvis (who had the first hit with it), Brenda Lee (my personal favorite), and Gwen McCrae (who actually released the first version of the song in 1972). I’ve been recording covers of songs chronologically, starting with “Surfer Girl” from 1963 — one song chosen per calendar year — but I made an exception and recorded this 1982 version of “Always On My Mind,” even though I had already covered “Tainted Love” from the same year. The reason had something to do with a costumed Halloween wedding party to which I’ve been invited by my talented niece; since I’m going as Willie Nelson, I figured I should at least learn one of his songs* and, well, one thing led to another. I found and purchased the Willie Nelson wig and headband online for the Halloween costumed wedding party taking place next week. It also occurred to me that this song — about experiencing regret in the world of love — is, to that extent, similar to one of the first songs I ever wrote: “Almost Doesn’t Count.”
This cover of “Always On My Mind” is recorded live with piano and vocal; guitar, drums, bass, and organ are added later, along with a touch of backup vocals near the end. As usual, drums, bass, piano, and organ are all played live on my MIDI keyboard using software instruments provided in Logic Pro. The video clips were shot live (except for the close up head shots, which are lip-synced) with my iPhone and edited with Final Cut Pro.
All of my original songs and covers are linked from my music page.
* This song was not actually written by Willie Nelson, but is credited to Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher, and Mark James.
Well, I’m up to 1983 — a year I was looking forward to — since it means I get to cover “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” the classic 1983 hit song written and performed by Elton John (with Davey Johnstone getting some of the music credit and Bernie Taupin writing the lyrics).
I basically recorded the piano and vocals live (filming with my iPhone), and then went back and added some backup vocals and “software instruments” (drums and bass) played live on my midi keyboard.
It occurred to me that architectural detailing can be understood as a kind of “rock paper scissors” game. In this iteration of the game, glass beats stone (Wright’s Falling Water on the left); stone beats wood (Cornell Architecture, Sibley Hall basement, in the middle); and wood beats glass (St Clement’s Church, Hastings, UK, on the right).