Category Archives: Milstein-Rand-Sibley Hall

Errors in Cornell’s 2016 Fine Arts Library Variance Request

Links to all my articles and blog posts concerning the Fine Arts Library proposal can be found here.

Tim DeRuyscher of GHD’s fire & life safety services testified as Cornell’s fire-safety Code consultant

In a prior blog post, I described false testimony provided to the State Hearing Board by Cornell’s Code consultant as part of a 2016 Variance Hearing related to non-conforming aspects of the proposed Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall. As I described in an “update” to that post, Cornell actually brought this false testimony to the attention of the State of New York Division of Building Standards and Codes; the State, in turn, determined that the “transcript, Findings of Fact and Determination and it’s conditions do not mention nor rely on the language used in Exhibit A to describe the occupancy (publicly accessible vs. card access controlled entry) of the Fine Arts Library facility” and that therefore “no action is needed.”

I found it interesting that Cornell took it upon itself to ask forgiveness for this minor sin, while completely ignoring the more egregious false and misleading statements made at that same Variance Hearing. I therefore sent the following email to the Division of Building Standards and Codes on April 25, 2017, outlining these more serious transgressions:

Dear Mr. Collier,

RE: Petition No. 2016-0269

Hugh Bahar of Cornell has asked you to reconsider the 2016 Variance granted to Cornell’s Fine Arts Library proposal (Petition No. 2016-0269), in light of false testimony provided by Cornell’s fire-safety consultant, Tim DeRuyscher of GHD Consulting Services. I would like to bring to your attention several other instances of false or misleading testimony provided by DeRuyscher at that same Hearing. Unlike the instance you have just considered, the examples I provide below are extremely important, and have a direct impact on the Findings of Fact that form the basis of the Variance decision.  In light of this pattern of false testimony that affects the Findings of Fact, I believe it is appropriate for you to consider rescinding the granting of this Variance request.

Finding of Fact No. 1. “The petition pertains to the renovation to the existing Rand Hall Fine Arts Library, Type 2B, three story academic building, A3 second and third story occupancy, F1 first floor, Type 2b, four story Library space in Rand Hall, thus creating non-conforming space. Refer to previous variance 2015-0432.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Finding of Fact No. 1:

“The prior two variances [2013 and 2015] dealt specifically with the ability of this building to be treated as a separate building.”

“…this building currently, and as designed, is using Type 2B non-protected structural steel, concrete construction.”

“We wanted to make sure that the previously granted determinations in 2013 and the one in 2015 are not nullified, voided or having any kind of problems treating this building as a separate building.”

“..this project is a renovation of an existing building…”

Problems with Finding of Fact No. 1:

First, the Variances granted in 2013 and 2015 that are cited by DeRuyscher are not germane to this current project, since they both requested relief from the 2010 NYS Building Code, a Code that is applicable neither to the current proposal nor to the 2016 request for relief. DeRuyscher acknowledges this implicitly by asking that those prior determinations not be “nullified, voided or having any kind of problems treating this building as a separate building.” In other words, he seems to be requesting relief from the requirements for a fire wall to separate Rand Hall from Milstein-Sibley Hall in this latest Variance request (from 2016), and this request is reiterated, albeit ambiguously, in the Finding of Fact (“Refer to previous variance 2015-0432”). This is important in understanding why DeRuyscher’s statements about the results of the Performance Compliance Method are false (more on that later).

Second, DeRuyscher’s assertion that these two prior variances “dealt specifically with the ability of this building to be treated as a separate building” is false: the 2013 Variance permitted the height and area of the Fine Arts Library to exceed Code limits for the combined Rand-Milstein-Sibley Hall building, but neither requested, nor was granted, the right to consider Rand Hall as a separate building.

Third, the building is not Type IIB construction, as alleged by Cornell and reiterated in the Finding of Fact, but is Type VB construction. This construction type was confirmed by the Hearing Board in their Findings under the original 2013 Variance for this project. The Board wrote at that time: “Due to the connection with Sibley Hall, the aggregate building is downgraded to a Type VB construction. The three buildings are considered one building under the Code.”

It is not possible to use the 2015 Variance as a basis for considering Rand Hall a separate building with Type IIB construction, as this Variance was granted under the 2010 NYS Building Code, which is no longer applicable. Had the project been built under the 2010 Code, then the 2015 Variance would, of course, be “grandfathered”; but since the project has not been built—a building permit has not even been issued (and the project has not even entered the construction document phase)—any variance request must be made with respect to the current, 2015 NYS Code. For that reason, Cornell has requested that relief from the requirements for a fire wall—no longer valid on the basis of the 2015 Variance—be granted (reaffirmed) as part of the 2016 Variance request.

Fourth, this project is characterized as a “renovation” by DeRuyscher and that characterization is reiterated in the Finding of Fact (“The petition pertains to the renovation to the existing Rand Hall Fine Arts Library…”). This characterization is false. In fact, the proposal is both a Level 3 Alteration and an addition to the existing building, as defined in the 2015 NYS Existing Building Code. The Code defines an alteration as any “construction or renovation to an existing structure other than a repair or addition.” An addition is therefore not an alteration, but rather is defined separately as an “extension or increase in floor area, number of stories, or height of a building or structure.” This mischaracterization is crucial in understanding why DeRuyscher’s testimony about the Performance Compliance Method is entirely false (more about that later).

Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3.

Finding of Fact No. 2. “The existing Building Code, Chapter 14, allows for a compliance method evaluation to access code compliance. When a code compliance method review has been performed, the design professional has provided proof that the structure meets the requirements, then that section is deemed compliant. As provided, GHD has provided such a review.”

Finding of Fact No. 3. “The Board finds that the assessment of the Chapter 14 review offered by the architect GHD, along with the alternatives provided with smoke control and elevator size and distance of travel pertaining thereto; the Board finds the Authority Having Jurisdiction/Fire Department supports the granting of the petition.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3:

“The second page of Exhibit D shows that we do indeed have positive results down at the bottom [based on the Performance Compliance Method], which in fact is quite high for a lot of the ratings. We have plus 14 for fire safety, 1.3 for means of egress. And general safety I think is the last one, is 3.3. So we’re all positive above zero. Zero or above. That by itself is the basis for code compliance.”

Problems with Findings of Fact No. 2 and No. 3:

First, the Performance Compliance Method cannot even be used for this project, since the Fine Arts Library building proposal contains an addition and, under the Chapter 14 Performance Compliance regulations, additions to existing buildings must “comply with the requirements of the International Building Code… The combined height and area of the existing building and the new addition shall not exceed the height and area allowed by Chapter 5 of the International Building Code…” In other words, all of the so-called scores that consultant DeRuyscher calculated under Chapter 14 (Performance Compliance Methods) of the 2015 NYS Existing Building Code are irrelevant. This is because under Chapter 5 of the Code for new construction, invoked under the Performance Compliance rules, an A-3 occupancy in Type VB construction cannot be built above the 2nd story; and the maximum floor area cannot exceed about 21,420 square feet. Both of these values are not met in the proposal, so the Performance Compliance Method fails. It is important to note that the Construction Type for this method must be VB, since this is the actual construction type of the building.

Second, the values used by Deruyscher in his calculations are incorrect, since they are based on the assumption that the construction type for the building is Type IIB. However, as demonstrated above, the two prior Variances granted in 2013 and 2015 are no longer applicable to this project, since they were based on relief requested from the 2010 NYS Building Code. The 2013 Variance Findings confirmed that the construction type for the combined buildings is VB, and not IIB.

It is highly inappropriate, and a form of circular reasoning, to use values in the Performance Compliance Method based on having applied for a 2016 Code variance that would effectively make Rand Hall a separate building with a IIB construction type, since the results of the Performance Compliance calculations are supposed to support that Variance, not to presuppose that it already has been granted. It would be like claiming that a 50-calorie cookie is really the same as (equivalent to) a 100-calorie cookie by applying for a “cookie variance” that allows you to label the 100-calorie cookie as a 50-calorie cookie, and then citing the lower number based on the variance to “prove” its equivalency. As I have shown in my Performance Compliance Method calculator [scroll down to bottom of webpage], the Performance Compliance Method fails when the correct construction type is used. But even if the Method “worked,” it would not apply to this proposal, since the proposal contains an addition, and the addition exceeds the height and area allowed by Chapter 5 of the International Building Code.

Finding of Fact No. 4. “The City of Ithaca has determined that the alteration constitutes the addition of a fourth floor or story, triggering the requirement for the elevator car to accommodate an ambulance stretcher.”

DeRuyscher statements at hearing relevant to Finding of Fact No. 4:

“So therefore the 2A versus 2B construction we don’t consider an issue, because effectively we met the requirements using the compliance performance method.”

“We are 2B construction, but in reality we’re a lot closer to Type 2A construction. But we can’t call it Type 2A because we don’t have every single member traditionally done.”

Problems with Finding of Fact No. 4:

First, the Findings of Fact make no mention of any evidence supporting the request for relief from the requirement to use Type IIA, rather than Type IIB, construction for a 4-story sprinklered building with an A-3 occupancy.

Second, as already shown, the Performance Compliance Method cannot be invoked to justify reductions in fire safety since the proposal has an addition which does not conform to Chapter 5 of the Code for new construction.

Third, Deruyscher’s contention that “we’re a lot closer to Type 2A construction” is false: the entire floor area for all the library stacks is made of, and supported by, non-fireproofed steel elements, including floor beams for the stacks, cables to suspend them, and transfer girders above them—none of which have any fire-resistive ratings. In other words, this proposal [is] not even close to being Type 2A construction, but is correctly classified as Type IIB construction [if Rand Hall were considered as a separate building; otherwise, the correct construction type would be VB].

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. A more detailed description of these and other errors in the Variance applications can be found here.

“Hat’s off” for the Fine Arts Library at Cornell

It’s possible that cost cutting exercises now underway may eliminate the “hat” (an entire floor level containing book stacks and a seminar room) that was proposed for the roof level of the Rand Hall Fine Arts Library at Cornell. Because many of the fire-safety building code issues that continue to plague this scheme hinge on the number of stories and floors, on the definition of mezzanines, and on the use of an atrium designation for the open volume, it might prove useful at this point to assess the implications of this possible change.

First, the distinction between stories and floors is important because an atrium space can only have 3 floors open to it; any other floor must be separated from the atrium volume by some form of protection. Even if the newly configured volume (without the hat) only has 3 stories, it still has at least 4 floors, as can be seen in the sections below. (There are actually 4 stories and 5 floors, as explained below.)

Schematic sections showing the number of stories and floors in a Fine Arts Library without a “hat.”

I am assuming that the mezzanine level shown in the section actually counts as a mezzanine; the AAP Dean recently mentioned that these floor levels might be made larger to carry more books in compensation for the loss of books in the “hat.” If the mezzanine level exceeds 50% of the room or space below it, then it no longer counts as a mezzanine and therefore would add one additional story to the atrium space.

There is a proposed exit access stair on the east side of the building—not shown in the sections, but shown in the bottom right corner of the renderings below—that links the 1st and 2nd stories and is open to the atrium; for that reason, the atrium actually contains four stories and five floors. In any case, the newly configured space violates Section 1006.3 of the 2015 NY State Building Code, which requires that the “path of egress travel to an exit shall not pass through more than one adjacent story.” In fact, the exit access from the highest level of the building passes through the 3rd story, the 2nd story, and then through the 1st story, before finding an exit. In addition, there are five floors open to the atrium, while only 3 open floors are permitted. I’m counting not only floor #1, which is open to the atrium because of the open exit access stair, but also the raised stack portion of the 2nd story, which counts as an additional floor (see the section).

The image below shows the architect’s rendering of the lowest stack level, hovering about 4 feet above the lower part of the 2nd story. Because the floor under this stack level can be used in various ways, and is a potential storage area for combustible material, it needs to be counted as a floor, even if it does not count as a story.

Architect’s rendering of proposed Fine Arts Library atrium space.

What is not shown in the architect’s rendering are two potential uses (abuses) of this space, both of which require that the floor under the hanging stack level be designated as a “floor.” The first possible use of the space is for storage of books or other items, as shown in my altered rendering below.

I’ve added some boxes of books below the hanging stack level to demonstrate that this floor level is really a “floor” and needs to be so designated.

Second, the architect’s provocative inclusion of rolling carts can only have one intention. As shown in my animated video below, students will invariably use the carts as recreational devices to navigate under the hanging stack level.

Links to all my articles and blog posts about the Fine Arts Library can be found here.

Cornell Fine Arts Library proposal to prevent public access

[Updated below] I sent the following email (dated March 30, 2017) to Cornell’s project manager for the Fine Arts Library proposal, in order to find out whether the proposed library card-access control is seriously intended to be implemented. I’ll update this post if I get an answer.

Cornell’s libraries are supposed to be open to the public. According to the Cornell library website: “Any person may visit the libraries and use materials, databases and resources on-site.”

In opposition to this policy, the proposed Fine Arts Library (FAL) will not be a public facility and instead will be card-access controlled. At the 2016 Variance Hearing before the State of New York Capital Region Syracuse Board of Review (Petition 2016-0269), Cornell’s Code consultant stated: “Other factors include that this facility is not necessarily public. I couldn’t just walk in there. It’s card access controlled for students… It’s almost like an indirect or a direct supervision correctional facility. Not that that’s what this place is, just as a side note.” (Emphasis added.)

The provision for card-access control in the FAL proposal is intended to limit the number of people who might use or visit the proposed library in order to justify “relief” from Code-mandated fire-safety requirements, in particular, atrium smoke control measures.

Could you let me know if Cornell provided false information to the Hearing Board in order to justify their request for a Code variance, or if the FAL is really intending to violate longstanding Cornell library policy regarding visitor access?

I’ve written a detailed analysis of this latest FAL proposal and Cornell’s Code variance requests here.

[Updated March 31, 2017]

I received this email reply on Friday, March 31, 2017, not from the FAL project manager to whom my email was addressed, but from Anne Kenney (University Librarian) and Kornelia Tancheva (Associate University Librarian), both of whom are leaving Cornell.

The various Cornell Libraries, including the Fine Arts Library, are open to the public during all their business hours. In support of the land-grant mission of the University, any person can visit the libraries and use materials and services on site.  No library unit can be card-controlled during its normal hours of operation. Any form of restricted access is allowed only after normal hours.   We are not sure what the consultant had in mind, but the Library’s position on this is and has been very clear. Since today is the last day of work for both Kornelia and me, we are copying Xin Li, who will work with Ezra on the Fine Arts Library project.

I responded as follows:

Thank you for confirming that Cornell provided false testimony to the State of New York Capital Region Syracuse Board of Review (Petition 2016-0269 for the proposed Rand Hall Fine Arts Library). You state that you “are not sure what the consultant had in mind.” As I wrote in the email that you responded to: “The provision for card-access control in the FAL proposal is intended to limit the number of people who might use or visit the proposed library in order to justify ‘relief’ from Code-mandated fire-safety requirements, in particular, atrium smoke control measures.” That is what Cornell, through its consultant, had in mind.

Of course, the question I asked in my email was entirely rhetorical, since the answer is self-evident. Furthermore, this is hardly the first false statement made in support of the library project. I hope that your successors will no longer remain complicit in this Trumpian universe where “fake news” is used to support dangerous anti-regulation policies. My detailed critiques of the proposal can be found here.

[Updated April 24, 2017: a flurry of emails to correct the record]

I was just copied on an email from the NYS Division of Building Standards & Codes to Cornell’s project manager. Apparently, Cornell had written to the DBS&C to correct the record, admitting the error in their testimony, and asking for confirmation that the Code variance that they had obtained was still valid. Here’s the body of the NYS response, dated April 24, 2017:

Regarding your letter of April 17, 2017, no further action with respect to a revision of Exhibit A is required. Your letter correction will added to the variance petition Exhibits as an amendment.

The transcript, Findings of Fact and Determination and it’s conditions do not mention nor rely on the language used in Exhibit A to describe the occupancy (publicly accessible vs. card access controlled entry) of the Fine Arts Library facility.

I trust this meets with your request for confirmation that no action is needed. If you have questions feel free to call me at 518 473 8947.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Neil Michael Collier RA CEO
Division of Building Standards & Codes
New York Department of State

Shortly thereafter, I received a copy of this puzzling email from the City of Ithaca Fire Chief (puzzling because it’s not clear whether his understanding is that the occupant load will be restricted, or will not be restricted):

It was my understanding that regardless of key access or public access, the occupant load would not be restricted beyond limits established by the BCNYS/FCNYS for the area and exiting of any A3 occupancy.

Tom Parsons
Fire Chief
City of Ithaca

I followed up on all this with an April 25, 2017, email to the New York State Division of Building Standards and Codes; read about it here.

Cornell’s proposed Fine Arts Library at 100% design development

Cornell’s 100% design development (DD) drawings for the proposed Fine Art’s Library have been completed. The scheme continues to have serious fire-safety deficiencies, continues to be non-compliant with the New York State Building Code, and continues to be problematic for non-Code reasons as well: it destroys a flexible “low-value” industrial-type building that was extremely useful for the department of architecture and replaces it with a spectacularly useless mausoleum for the display of books. You can read more of my articles and blog posts about this project here.

Today, one day before the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I offer two more reading options: first, a detailed analysis of the latest 100% DD drawings (and Cornell’s Code variances) and second, a Cornell Chronicle parody covering the same material.

This photo accompanies my Cornell Chronicle parody.

Mezzanine problems in Cornell’s proposed Fine Arts Library

Links to all my writings and blog posts about Cornell’s proposed Fine Arts Library can be found here.

The Fine Arts Library proposed for Rand Hall at Cornell University has two stories, each with a mezzanine floor, for a total of four levels all linked by a single continuous vertical opening. Vertical openings in buildings are—with some important exceptions—prohibited by Building Codes because they present a serious fire and smoke hazard if not properly designed or protected by a continuous and fire-rated shaft enclosure. The most common exception to the general prohibition of vertical openings states that any two stories may have a vertical opening between them. This much is clear. However, when mezzanines are introduced, things get more complicated and additional exceptions to the general prohibition against vertical openings must be analyzed.

The 2003 and 2007 versions of the New York State Building Codes—the first that were based on the International Building Code (IBC)—state in Section 505.1 that: “A mezzanine… shall be considered a portion of the floor below.” This is important because the exception allowing two-story vertical openings (in Section 707.2 of the 2010 NY State Code or Section 712.1.9 of the 2015 NY State Code, for example) specifically allows such openings to connect two stories, but only as long as they also are separated from other floor openings. Because mezzanines were previously defined as being part of the floor below, they were not considered as separate floors, and therefore didn’t count as additional floor openings under the terms of this exception. In other words, the four interconnected floors in the Fine Arts Library proposal might have been acceptable under these older Codes (assuming that all other requirements governing maximum mezzanine size were satisfied). However, in all subsequent versions of the New York State Building Code, including those from 2010 through 2015, a single word in Section 505.1 (or 505.2 in later versions) was changed, so that a mezzanine is now considered a portion—not of the floor below—but of the story below.

With this seemingly innocent change—from floor to story—the exception in Section 707.2 of the 2010 Code (or Section 712.1.9 of the 2015 Code) allowing floor openings connecting no more than two stories as long as they are also separated from other floor openings now has a very different meaning. With mezzanine floors no longer included as part of the floor below, but still considered as independent floors, the requirement that any vertical opening linking two stories be separated from any other floors is no longer satisfied if mezzanines are present. It is no longer possible to ignore the mezzanine floor levels by claiming that they are part of the floors below them.

There are only two other potentially viable options for designing “vertical openings” for a new Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall, per Section 712.1 in the 2015 NY State Building Code. The first such option—having a vertical opening between a mezzanine and the floor below—clearly doesn’t work for the Fine Arts Library proposal, since only a single mezzanine and floor can be linked together using this option. The only other viable strategy is to design the vertical opening as an atrium.

Schematic section through the Fine Arts Library in Rand Hall showing the two “stories” and two mezzanine floors proposed in both the schematic design and 50% design development drawings  with the noncompliant “vertical opening” shown in pink (diagram by J. Ochshorn)


Cornell’s proposed Fine Arts Library at 50% design development

UPDATED Feb. 13, 2017 (see comments below).

I’ve been out of the country since August 2016, so I was not able, until now, to examine the 50% Design Development (DD) drawings for the proposed Fine Arts Library that have been made available for viewing in the Dean’s office. This post, therefore, may well be old news. However, having already noted numerous problems with the schematic design proposal, I was curious to see if any or all of them had been resolved. As far as I can tell, the proposal still has many problems, some old and some new. In particular, it appears that the fire wall shown in the schematic plans has been eliminated (replaced with various “fire barriers”) so that the advantages of considering Rand Hall as a separate building (only possible with a fire wall) have apparently been discarded. I’ve sent out an email today with a bunch of questions for the contact person at Cornell Facilities, reprinted below, and will update this post if I get any answers.


1. The Building Department Notes in the 50% DD set list the 2010 NYS Building Code and 2010 NYS Existing Building Code as governing Code documents. Will the drawings be changed to reflect the 2015 NYS Building Code and 2015 NYS Existing Building Code now in effect?

2. There is no comprehensive Code analysis in the 50% DD set that explains the basis of the design. For example, the schematic design proposed a fire wall between Milstein Hall and Rand Hall, allowing Rand Hall to be considered as a separate building. There is no fire wall shown in the 50% DD set (except for “mobile fire wall” notations on one of the elevations — see Question #6 below); therefore Rand-Milstein-Sibley Hall must be considered as a single building with a single construction type. This construction type is V-B, based on the 3rd-floor wooden wall construction of Sibley Hall, and not II-B as noted in the DD set.

A Code variance granted in November, 2013 acknowledges the fact that the existing library as designed and constructed on the third floor of Rand Hall (or a proposed, but not yet designed, library on the second and third floors of Rand Hall) would be noncompliant under the 2010 NYS Building Code, and requests that two specific 2010 Code sections be waived. As a result of the variance hearing, certain requirements in Sections 503.1 and 504.2 of the 2010 NYS Building Code were waived, allowing an increase in the allowable floor area of the second floor from about 22,500 square feet to 70,000 square feet and permitting the library to exceed the second-story limit stipulated in the Code (based on its V-B construction type and A-3 occupancy class) and to occupy the third floor of the “Rand Hall” portion of the combined building. A third Code section waiver, not originally requested by Cornell but suggested by the Hearing Board, waives portions of Section 715.1 of the 2010 NYS Building Code so that the requirement for opening protectives (for the windows that penetrate the fire barriers between Milstein, Rand, and Sibley Halls) no longer needs to be applied in considering the Code compliance of the existing library.

This variance clearly allows the current third-floor library to remain in Rand Hall. It does not, however, change the construction type of the combined buildings from V-B to II-B. It should be emphasized that without a fire wall, Rand Hall is not a separate building, even with the variance, and its construction type remains V-B.

On what basis is the construction type for this project listed as II-B?

3. A Code variance specifies what can be constructed, not merely by enumerating practices that are deemed allowable for a particular project, but rather by waiving specific Code sections that would otherwise render the construction noncompliant. The Code variance granted Cornell in November 2013 waives three Code sections in the 2010 NYS Building Code, allowing the current third-floor library to remain. However, those Code sections are no longer applicable to new construction or renovation, since a new 2015 Building Code has taken effect. The variance granted in 2013 for the current library did not waive any Code sections in the 2015 NYS Building Code. Do you believe that a new library built under the 2015 NYS Building Code (and 2015 NYS Existing Building Code) can waive floor area, story height limits, and window protective requirements in the new Code on the basis of a waiver of three Code sections that were granted with respect to the existing library under the 2010 Building Code?

4. Since the building construction type of V-B is neither Type I or Type II, the maximum aggregate area of a mezzanine is 1/3 of the floor area of the room in which it is located. On the basis of what Sections in the 2015 NYS Building Code can the mezzanines shown in the 50% DD set exceed this 1/3 floor area limit?

5. Section 712.1.9 (Two-story openings) of the 2015 New York State Building Code requires that all floor openings must be “separated from floor openings and air transfer openings serving other floors by construction conforming to required shaft enclosures.” Mezzanines, while not counted as “stories,” are still counted as “floors”; therefore openings connecting any more than two such floors are not permitted unless protected by a shaft enclosure, or designed as atriums. How are floor openings connecting all four floors (not stories) in the Fine Arts Library permitted under the 2015 Building Code?

6. There are two notations on the West Elevation in the 50% DD set that say something like “mobile fire wall” (the font is so small that, even with my reading glasses on, I can’t make out the exact words) and point to the north-west and south-west corners of Rand Hall. What do these notations mean? What is a “mobile fire wall”?

7. A sectional drawing in the 50% DD set shows a dimension of 2’-3” below the hanging 2nd-floor stack area, but seems to show protruding objects on the south side of this hanging floor that are higher than 2’-3” and therefore in violation of the 2015 NYS Building Code and ADA. Can you explain what these protruding objects are (see sketch below) and why you believe that they are Code-compliant?

UPDATE Feb. 13, 2017: I received a brief email response from the Project Manager/Sr. Engineer at Cornell Facilities: “Thanks very much for your thoughts and input and I will forward your email to our design team.  It appears that you are reviewing a 50% DD set, which has evolved considerably.  Once the DD phase is complete there will be new drawings that may address many of your questions.” In other words, it looks like I won’t have any definitive answers to these questions until the 100% Design Development drawings are released.

Links to all my writings and posts concerning the Fine Arts Library proposal can be found here.

Koolhaas delivers “junk-space” to Cornell, in his own words…

“There are no walls, only partitions, shimmering membranes frequently covered in mirror or gold.”


“Structure groans invisibly underneath decoration, or worse, has become ornamental…”


“…huge beams deliver cyclopic burdens to unsuspecting destinations…”

Rem Koolhaas, “junk-space,” Brendan McGetrick, ed., Content, Taschen (Köln, London, etc., 2004), p. 163. Images are of Milstein Hall, Cornell University, designed by OMA.

Exit signs in E. Sibley Hall at Cornell

Exit signs are supposed to clearly show you the way out of a building. The Building Code of New York State puts it this way: “Where required: …The path of egress travel to exits and within exits shall be clearly marked by readily visible exit signs to clearly indicate the direction of egress travel in cases where the exit or the path of egress travel is not immediately visible to the occupants…” With all the best intentions, Cornell University replaced some old and ordinary doors and walls within the main egress stairwell of its architecture building (E. Sibley Hall) with fire-rated glazing and installed a bunch of illuminated exit signs to show the way out.

Views of exit signs from inside the E. Sibley Hall egress stair

Views of exit signs from inside the E. Sibley Hall egress stair

Unfortunately, as can be seen in these recent photos, the transparency of the doors and walls violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Code. This happens because as one reaches the second floor in the stair (image “b” on the right), one sees an exit sign apparently pointing to an exit outside the stair, just like the sign that one sees on the first floor (image “a” on the left). However, while the sign on the first floor actually points to the exit discharge, the sign on the second floor points away from the exit discharge. In fact, this second-floor sign in intended to get you into the stair from the outside, not to induce you to leave the stair. However, because people using the stair shaft can now see exit signs outside the stair that were not meant to be seen from within the stair itself, what was a simple path of egress has become confusing and therefore dangerous.

More nonstructural failure in Milstein Hall

Last summer (2015), the plaza behind Milstein Hall at Cornell University, along with the concrete fascia over the spaces that sit beneath the plaza, were cut up and put back together again. As I explain in the video embedded below (and on my Critique of Milstein Hall website), the concrete plaza was designed and constructed with no slope and no drain, in violation of standard design and construction procedures. This resulted in a nasty problem in which water, carrying efflorescent residues from the concrete above, worked its way into the gallery space, and onto both the gallery windows and the windows at the west end of the below-grade corridors. The new work doesn’t fix all the intrinsic problems with the design, but seems to fix enough of them, at least for now.

Sunset over Milstein Hall

“God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day… God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good…”

But not good enough for Milstein Hall: only for this building does the sun set in the east!