Chad Randl and D. Medina Lasansky organized a book launch event in Trumansburg for their recently-published edited volume from MIT Press called Playing Place: Board Games, Popular Culture, Space. Medina asked if I would perform my board game song — “Squints on a Triple,” which was the winner of the 2008 BoardGameGeek contest for real board games mentioned in songs. Unbeknownst to me, my performance on Sunday, September 10, 2023, was recorded on a cell phone by Jenni Minner, our colleague at Cornell, who was gracious enough to provide me a copy.
I put the cell phone’s audio track into Logic Pro and did some minor tweaking with some added EQ, reverb, and so on, but I couldn’t do much to balance the vocal and guitar. I then changed the aspect ratio from portrait to landscape in Final Cut Pro, and added some transcribed lyrics and other titles.
So, it is what it is, as they say. The original “studio” version of the song is here.
Today in the New York Times, Lola Fadulu writes about New York City’s lawsuit pertaining to Steven Holl’s ADA-noncompliant Hunters Point library:
A few years back, architects designed a public library in Queens that has been lauded as one of the most stunning public buildings produced in New York in a century. But it is also rife with obstacles for people with disabilities, according to city officials who are now suing the designers for the $10 million they say it will cost to fix.
At the Queens Public Library at Hunters Point, a staircase that runs from the lobby to the second floor is the only way to access three areas that have built-in desks with charging stations. A ramp that leads to the rooftop terrace, which has sweeping views of Manhattan, has a slope that is unlawful, the city argues. Bathrooms throughout the building do not have enough space for wheelchairs, the lawsuit says.
Two years ago, in July 2021, I wrote about the same library in my song, “Ballad of Building Bad.” Here’s the song, starting with the second verse:
Verse 2 (Jonathan Ochshorn, “Ballad of Building bad”) Everybody’s talking about the fancy new library Where you must climb up steps to get to these bookshelves Asked about ADA mandates for access he says it’s customary For disabled people not to get their books themselves Now he’s pointing to the killer views you get looking out from those steel stairs But when asked about excluding handicapped users He says I won’t ruin my design just because of some strollers and some wheelchairs This is a gift to the community so beggars can’t be choosers And it’s based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad Building bad
The song is based on my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression (Lund Humphries, 2021).
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 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).
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.
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.