In anticipation of the official U.S. release of my book, Building Bad, on Sept. 30, 2021, I made a more fully orchestrated version of my song, Ballad of Building Bad, along with a new, more elaborated, music video.
The original “live” version of the song, along with some fun facts and lyrics, can be found on this prior blog post.
Verse 1 Flames shoot up from a couch by the front bay window Toxic smoke quickly fills the room Then works its way right up the stairs to the floor where the boys had been so Fast asleep that they didn’t smell the noxious fume And didn’t hear the smoke alarm with their parents out and the doors all shut tight There is no law requiring sprinklers whose activation Might have doused the flames and saved their lives that night Perhaps the home builders associations that lobbied so hard to kill that legislation Will explain their tortured logic to Mom and Dad Building bad
Verse 2 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 and beggars can’t be choosers And it’s based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad Building bad
Bridge Architects are trained to get their kicks with fashion an obsession While utility’s constrained by politics and damaged by expression
Verse 3 There are leaks and cracks and mold but the building’s still standing Like a party of drunken robots celebrating Says the architect hired to promote the institute’s rebranding He says it as a point of pride — not to be self-deprecating I can’t hang my blackboard when these office walls are curved and slanted Complains the famous linguist wondering why they’re convex And why even configuring control layers correctly is something you can’t take for granted Where the risk of failure grows and grows as forms get increasingly complex And fashionable dysfunction is more than just a passing fad Building bad
Unbeknownst to me, when I started writing this ballad, it took the form of a Shakespearian Sonnet, with these two modifications: (1) instead of three quatrains (abab, cdcd, efef) in each verse, there are two (abab, cdcd), followed, as in the Shakespearian model, by a couplet (gg); and (2) the accent in Shakespeare’s classic iambic pentameter (“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon“) is reversed, so it is more like trochaic pentameter (“Toxic smokequickly fills the room“). And as the lines in my verses get elaborated, the meter becomes harder to detect, but it’s there!
Links to all my music and videos can be found here.
As I have been alternating new (original) songs and covers, it’s time for me to re-imagine this hit (recorded in 1980 but released as a single in 1981) from Daryl Hall and John Oates, with Sara Allen also given song-writing credit. I can’t possibly replicate Daryl Hall’s energetic vocal or mimic the particular rock genre — characterized later as “yacht rock.” The tempo of my version is somewhat faster, but with the snare drum slowed down into a half-time feel and a decidedly more bluesy articulation.
I wrote this song in January and February of 2021, then worked on the piano/vocal arrangement for another month or so, recording it live on March 21, 2021 (while simultaneously shooting the video using my iPod Touch mounted on a tripod perched precariously with one leg on the piano and the other two legs straddling my computer keyboard. This is a love song of sorts with my own intuited jazz-inflected chord changes. Try out a 14-bar verse yourself: | Cmaj7 | Eb | Dm | C# | E | Emaj7 | Dm – G | repeat. Or perhaps you would prefer to try the 9-bar chorus: | Cmaj7 | Fm – C# | B | Bb | Ebm – B | Amaj7 | Ab | C# | Fm | Dm – G |. And sorry for mixing up flats and sharps: it’s how I understand the changes, even if it doesn’t correspond to proper musical notation.
In my chronological quest to record covers of songs that were somehow influential in my musical/emotional development, I’ve finally left the 1970s! Inaugurating the new decade is Bruce Springsteen’s fine working-class anthem, “The River,” first released in 1980. The truth is, I didn’t really know the song until much later, but still…
This version is recorded live, at least the basic piano and vocals, with the video recorded simultaneously from two vantage points: the sucky iSight camera in my old iMac, and my relatively new iPod touch mounted on a tripod behind the piano (visible in the iMac segments). I then added acoustic guitar, harmonica, and—using Logic Pro’s software instruments—drums and bass. I edited the video using Final Cut Pro, making everything black and white in order to work around the horrible color quality of the iMac video segments. In this respect, I must disagree with Paul Simon’s assessment in “Kodachrome” that “everything looks worse in black and white.” In fact, the opposite is often true.
All of my music and music videos can be found here.
This is a song written out of desperation: I needed some “material” and so decided to write about my daily walk down the hill to the Ithaca Commons (more or less) and then back up the hill. The images in the video that I shot to document the walk became the subject of the song, albeit with a bit of poetic license intended to draw some larger meaning from the experience.
Find lyrics and other production notes on the official “Walking In Circles” website. And find links to all my music and music videos here.
I’ve written a book called Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression. Although the book won’t be released until June 15, 2021, the publisher, Lund Humphries, has decided to “introduce” it through various social media (Twitter, blogs, and so on). I created a short video “trailer” for that purpose which was embedded in the publisher’s blog post, but you can also view it here.
The Lund Humphries blog also features a short “reflections” piece that I wrote:
My interest in architectural utility — as it relates to both expression and what might be called “politics” — evolved over many years. In 1983, I began considering the perverse logic of competition that drives architectural fashion. Several years later, I argued that the strategic separation of architecture into its “art” and “science” components allows architects to largely abstract from technical content in the process of designing expressive buildings. While there is still some truth in that hypothesis, I began to see the split between art and science as increasingly problematic, not because it threatens some ideal of aesthetic integrity, but rather because, in its very nature, it compromises the utilitarian functionality of buildings.
By 2006, I began systematically writing about the dangers of separating architecture’s expressive and utilitarian functions within the design process, and also began to examine the two characteristics of architectural utility brought together in this book: first, that lower and upper limits on utilitarian function are established by politics and economics; and second, that utilitarian functionality is sacrificed at the altar of avant-garde architectural expression.
In Building Bad, I cite many buildings and projects as examples of utilitarian dysfunction or compromise, some close at hand (Rem Koolhaas’s architecture building and I.M. Pei’s art museum are both at Cornell University, where I have been teaching since 1988), and others farther removed in time or space, including Mies van der Rohe’s campus buildings at I.I.T. in Chicago, Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Center at Ohio State University; Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T., Zaha Hadid’s Pierresvives in Montpellier, Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower, and many others.
In analyzing such buildings in terms of architectural expression and utility, my goal is neither to advocate for a particular architectural style — least of all my own — nor to condemn contemporary practice on the basis of its moral shortcomings. Instead, I examine architecture from an objective standpoint, and explain what it is, not what it should be. For that reason, I make no attempt to show how architectural expression and utility might be made more useful — less dysfunctional — since such idealism runs up against the very culture within which this dysfunction is valued.
The book’s subtitle — how architectural utility is constrained by politics and damaged by expression — is therefore not intended as a call to action to promote reform. The question posed in the epilogue — ”whether and how the art of architecture can adjust its trajectory so that it aligns with the most fundamental requirements of building science” — remains unanswered, as it must: Architecture’s dysfunction, running parallel to the dysfunction of society as a whole, constitutes an essential feature of avant-garde production, not a flaw. This dysfunction is consistent with and, in fact, thrives within the ethos of human and environmental damage that undergirds modern democratic states.
I’ve been recording covers of songs—one from each year starting in 1963, with a different artist each time. I’m excited to be saying goodbye to the 1970s with this semi-acoustic cover of Tom Petty’s classic song from one of the best albums of 1979: “Damn the Torpedoes.”
Find links to more covers and original compositions on my music homepage.
[Updated May 31, 2020: I embedded a new, more elaborate version of the song and video below; the original “live” performance can be seen here.] I wrote and recorded this song—Stuck Here in a Box—over Memorial Day weekend, 2020, locked down at home during the covid-19 pandemic. The “box” in the song’s title references the multiple frames in a Zoom meeting, within which one eventually begins to feel trapped.
I was only marginally aware of Warren Zevon back in 1978 when he released his Excitable Boy album, which contained the song, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” However, I did become a fan later, and I offer this more-or-less acoustic cover consisting primarily of vocals, guitar, and harmonica. I did add a bit of kick drum and bass to provide some propulsion in certain places; also I added some organ and piano in the bridge and some piano in the fade-out. These instruments (kick drum, bass, organ, and piano) are actually so-called software instruments played live on my midi-enabled Yamaha P-60 digital piano. I mixed it all using Logic Pro X and shot the video with my new iPod Touch, edited using Final Cut Pro. Oh, and the hand claps are really just my hands clapping.