I’ve written a new a book about architectural failure. In addition to some general observations and an occasional digression, the heart of the book is a rather detailed examination of dysfunction, inflexibility, fire hazard, nonstructural failure, and unsustainable design in Milstein Hall at Cornell University, the flagship building designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) for Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. See my website to read the 412-page book for free (on the web, or as a free pdf or ePub) or click on the “Amazon” link to buy an inexpensive paperback version ($19.95).
There are 26 chapters in the book organized into four parts—with each part corresponding to one category of architectural failure:
- Part I (Dysfunction and Inflexibility) includes detailed discussions of function, flexibility, privacy, lighting, acoustics, circulation, orientation, and access.
- Part II (Nonstructural Failure) offers an examination of thermal control, rainwater control, and sloppy, dysfunctional, and dangerous details in Milstein Hall.
- Part III (Fire Hazard) discusses the many ways in which Milstein Hall contravenes normative fire safety standards.
- Part IV (Unsustainable Design) is in equal part a critique of Milstein Hall’s sustainability and the cynical use of the LEED Reference Guide as validation for Milstein Hall’s “green” credentials.
Writing and researching my monograph, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression (Lund Humphries, 2021), provided a useful theoretical base for the present work, which is, in effect, a case study in “building bad.” The competition driving dysfunctional modes of expression and the political calculations that effectively constrain durability and safety—both of which increase the probability of building failure—are theorized in Building Bad. And this theory applies to most avant-garde architecture, including the architecture of Milstein Hall. The present book does not rehash the underlying theoretical arguments for nonstructural failure that appeared in Building Bad; instead, it examines what such failure looks like in a single building—as a case study.