Category Archives: Milstein-Rand-Sibley Hall

Pritzker-plus tour of Cornell campus

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.


Why not store combustible foam plastic under an exit stair?

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.


New “Accessibility” section in Milstein Hall Critique

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.

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.

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.

Mui Ho Fine Arts Library Code Appeal filed

Why would an architect place an occupied roof deck adjacent to smoke exhaust vents?

Animation gif by Jonathan Ochshorn illustrating potential problems with atrium smoke exhaust vents forming the northern boundary of a roof-top assembly space.

Smoke exhaust vents for the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library atrium form the northern boundary of a roof-top assembly space, as discussed in Exhibit 2 (Violation #5) of my Code Appeal. Animation and underlying photo by Jonathan Ochshorn.

For the full answer, you’ll need to read my forthcoming book, in which I explain how architectural utility is constrained by politics and damaged by expression (published by @LHArtBooks) and due in early 2021.

But the short answer is that this building—the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University—was designed from a purely aesthetic standpoint (for all the reasons that motivate artists to “defamiliarize” their work and heroically court danger by pushing the envelope in order to claim avant-garde status). This is often done under the mistaken impression that errors and omissions can be fixed later by engineering and fire safety consultants. However, it turns out that when you combine that sort of arrogance with a lack of interest in mundane concerns like life- and fire-safety—and when those dangerous attitudes are validated by your powerful client and by a code enforcement infrastructure that doesn’t have the time or expertise to ensure adequate enforcement—the violations often remain, placing students, staff, faculty, and visitors in danger.

You can read about these smoke exhaust vents and all nine alleged Code violations in my Appeal Application.

Links to all my articles and blog posts on the Fine Arts Library are here.

NYS Code Appeal: Life safety issues at Cornell’s Fine Arts Library

[Updated Nov. 26, 2020 here] Life safety issues—and not just due to the coronavirus—continue to threaten the safety of students, staff, faculty, and visitors at Cornell. I am appealing determinations by the City of Ithaca Building Division and the NYS Division of Building Standards and Codes Oversight Unit concerning the compliance of the Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University with the 2015 New York State Building Code. My entire appeal application including all exhibits can be found here. Links to all my writings about the Fine Arts Library are here.

Rand, Sibley, and Milstein Halls at Cornell University
Milstein Hall, Cornell, Ithaca, July 19, 2012, Photo by Jonathan Ochshorn

Update on life- and fire-safety violations in the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library at Cornell

I have identified nine serious life- and fire-safety violations in the newly-opened Mui Ho Fine Arts Library at Cornell University and am still unable to appeal the ruling of New York State’s Division of Building Standards and Codes (DBSC) because the DBSC has not completed their “re-opened” review of the case. Here is what I wrote to them today:

It has been three months since our last conversation in which you said that some aspects of the Rand Hall Fine Arts Library case had been “re-opened,” that you were not “leaving any stone unturned,” and that your work was close to being done (i.e., that you would likely be finished before January 2020). I have also been told … that “there has been a request by DBSC for additional information from the consultants that provided the smoke control modeling for the project.” As I wrote in my email copied to you on Feb. 11, 2020, I believe that my complaint should be adjudicated based on whether the City of Ithaca appropriately granted a building permit, irrespective of whatever documentation may have been provided after my complaint was filed.

It has been eleven months since I submitted a formal code complaint with the City of Ithaca Building Division and nine months since I filed a formal complaint with the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes. In all this time, I have still not received a single substantive response to any of the nine code violations that I described in my complaints.

The Mui Ho Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall at Cornell University remains unsafe, noncompliant, and presents a clear danger to its occupants. For that reason, I am eager to appeal the ruling of the DBSC Oversight Unit (Complaint #4660). Please let me know (1) the status of my complaint, (2) when your “work” will be completed, and (3) your specific reasoning for discounting each of the nine code violations that I described in detail. Please provide answers in writing: your prior requests to “give me a call at your earliest convenience”—on Nov. 5, 2019 and Dec. 3, 2019—have proven to be unsatisfactory.

Links to all of my writings on Cornell’s Fine Arts Library can be found here.

Updated Sept. 22, 2020: I finally got the go-ahead to file an appeal. Details here.

Upskirting at Cornell’s Fine Arts Library

I asked about the upskirting potential of the Fine Arts Library at Cornell University before it opened, and was told that the issue had been carefully studied and that the architects insisted that the floor grating could not be seen through. Well, reality has a nasty habit of correcting such obvious falsehoods, as you can see in this video I took of myself in February 2020.