My live performance at retirement event

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).

Production notes:
Music written, arranged, produced, and performed by Jonathan Ochshorn (© J. Ochshorn)
Recorded with Logic Pro X software
Video edited with Final Cut Pro software
Vocals: Jonathan Ochshorn
Guitar and harmonica: Jonathan Ochshorn
Audio recorded live at home in Ithaca, NY, January 18, 2023; video of live performance shot January 27, 2023.

Use of Google Street View for architectural photography

I’m continually amazed by the availability of high-quality (if sometimes idiosyncratically framed) architectural images through Google’s street view. Finding public domain or Creative Commons images can be difficult when publishing architectural critiques and the copyrighted alternatives can be expensive — the screen captures (or screen recordings) made possible through the street view app are an under-appreciated resource!

I made this video of the Piazzetta San Marco in Venice simply by using the screen recording (Command-5) feature on my Mac. The recording itself contains the required attribution [image capture Sep 2018 © 2022 Google]; no other permissions are needed to use such material online or in print.

Always On My Mind

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.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

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.

More songs and videos can be found here.

Architectural detailing as as “rock paper scissors” game

It occurred to me that architectural detailing can be understood as a kind of “rock paper scissors” game. In this iteration of the game, glass beats stone (Wright’s Falling Water on the left); stone beats wood (Cornell Architecture, Sibley Hall basement, in the middle); and wood beats glass (St Clement’s Church, Hastings, UK, on the right).


I’ve written and recorded my first post-retirement song. It’s an extended metaphor about getting old, based on the game of chess — specifically, the “endgame.”

Links to all my music and music videos can be found here.

On Chinese vs US greenhouse gas emissions

The following thought experiment is based on 2018 statistics, which are the latest that I could find (so when I say “current,” I am referring to 2018 values).

[Updated below] Analysis and commentary in US public media most often compare the total greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) of China and the US, abstracting from the fact that China has more than 4 times the population of the US. (Also typically left out of such commentary is the enormous historical contribution by the US to CO2e in the atmosphere.) From this misleading standpoint, one constantly is reminded that China emits more than twice as much CO2e as the US. 

But from a per capita standpoint — the only rational way to compare the two countries with respect to their contribution to climate change — China emits less than half as much CO2e as the US.

Even if the US lowers its emissions by 40% compared to 2005 levels — the optimistic estimate based on implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — its per capita emissions would still be 27% higher than China’s current emissions, per capita.

In fact, the US would need to lower its current emissions (which are already 10% lower than its 2005 emissions) by an additional 48% just to match China’s current per capita emissions.

Here are my calculations, and sources:

2018 per capita total greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent or CO2e)

  • US: 18.44 metric tons of CO2e per capita
  • China: 8.87 metric tons of CO2e per capita

2018 population

  • US: 327,096,265
  • China: 1,427,647,786

2018 Total emission

  • US: 6,030 x 106 metric tons of CO2e
  • China: 12,663 x 106 metric tons of CO2e

Amount of US emissions if made to equal China’s per capita rate

  • 8.87 x 327,096,265 = 2,901 x 106 metric tons of CO2e

Percent reduction in US 2018 emissions to equal China’s 2018 per capita emissions

  • (2,901 / 6,030) x 100 = 48%

Other calculations:

  • “The goal of the [Inflation Reduction] bill is to put the country [US] on a path to reduce greenhouse gasses by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.” (source)
  • “From 2005 to 2018, net US emissions declined 10 percent” (EPA Data highlights)
  • Therefore 2005 US emissions were 6,700 x 106 metric tons of CO2e.
  • Therefore, the 2030 US goal of emissions 40% below 2005 levels sets a target of 4,020 x 106 metric tons of CO2e.
  • Assuming a 2030 US Census projected population of 355,100,000, the per capital goal for 2030 US emissions is 4,020 x 106 / 355,100,000 = 11.32 metric tons of CO2e per capita.
  • This is substantially higher than the current (2018) Chinese per capita emissions of 8.87 metric tons of CO2e per capita.

Updated 16 September 2022: Here is a typical and egregious example of how China is portrayed in US media as “the world’s largest climate polluter” even though its per capita contribution to CO2 is much less than that of the US and, in fact, lower than that of 41 other nations (according to 2016 data).

From David Wallace-Wells, “China Is Writing the Story of the Climate Future,” NY Times, Sept. 14, 2022: “China is not just the world’s largest climate polluter but is responsible now for about half of all global coal use and almost a third of all global carbon emissions — a growing share, and more than twice the American contribution. (Though on a per-capita basis, the United States is still doing much worse.)”

The article does disclose that “on a per-capita basis, the United States is still doing much worse,” but only as a parenthetical remark, as if this admission can be taken as not particularly important.

My Cornell “Chats in the Stacks” book talk video posted

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.

Op-Ed on Bad Building in The Architect’s Newspaper

Logo for the Architect's Newspaper digital editionI wrote an op-ed that was just published in The Architect’s Newspaper with the rather unwieldy, but nevertheless accurate, title, “Bad Building: Architecture’s Aesthetics Should Support, rather than Sabotage, a Building’s Function.” The argument in the op-ed derives from my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression.

Cornell welcomes alumni to Arts Quad with ADA noncompliance

[Updated below, June 8, 2022 and July 17, 2022] This morning, I sent an email to Cornell facilities and accessibility staff, as well as the Ithaca Building Division, alerting them to “protruding objects” on the Arts Quad:

To all concerned with access compliance on the Cornell campus:

I noticed today (June 4, 2022) that guy-lines stabilizing a Cornell Arts Quad tent are in violation of ADA and NYS Building Code requirements for access along circulation paths. They constitute “protruding objects” and, as such, are illegal and dangerous.

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.”

[June 8, 2022 Update] Cornell has placed cane-detection barriers in front of most, but not all, of the noncompliant guy-lines on the Arts Quad. In the photo below, the circulation path is protected in one direction only:

Tent guy-lines remain unprotected on the Cornell Arts Quad

[July 17, 2022 Update] A new tent has been set up on the Arts Quad (see image below), and it has the same issue with ADA noncompliance as was discussed in the June 8, 2022 update above: the cane detection barrier works from the outside-in, but not from the inside-out. Clearly, people move along circulation paths in two directions, and ADA compliance is required for both of them! Guy-lines that stabilize tents become noncompliant protruding objects when they pass through circulation paths between the heights of 27 inches and 80 inches.