A Disaster? Koolhaas' new Cornell architecture Building leaks, not code compliant.

The $50MM dollar expansion to Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning, designed by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture is a "disaster" says Cornell Professor Jonathan Ochshorn.

The building has several flagrant code violations, including exceeding the maximum area for a Type VB building per IBC Table 503.

Because adjacent Sibley Hall is a Type VB building, a firewall separation is required between Sibley and Milstein (shown above). There is no firewall. The building also leaks. The crit space on the ground floor lacks proper exiting.

Cornell Architecture Professor Jonathan Ochshorn goes into detail about the design flaws of this building on his interview on the Business of Architecture show here. In this interview Ochshorn also points out the flaws with USGBC's LEED rating system.

What say you? Have we taken starchitecture too far? Is OMA to be applauded or upbraided for flaunting practical considerations like the building code and weather-tightness?

Oct 15, 13 3:40 pm
vado retro

enoch i really enjoyed this interview. conceptually i love the idea of this project. but after professor Ochshorn began talking about how as an addition the building became non compliant i was smacking myself. "why didn't i realize this! it's so obvious!" the fact, that it was allowed to be built given the glaring issues with fire separation and lack of sufficient egress makes you wonder who's working down at city hall and where they put their christmas bonus from cornell university. jus' sayin'

Oct 15, 13 4:13 pm  · 


Can't we talk about something horrible about the project? 

Having worked on lots of big complex projects you think it though and common sense drive nonsense of prescriptive code who describe risk without context via numbers -

Just looking at the project I can certainly figure out that logic via looking at the design.

Oct 15, 13 4:24 pm  · 
( o Y o )

Building and zoning codes? Fire separations? Egress requirements? Water tightness?

Bah, who needs them.

Oct 15, 13 4:43 pm  · 

Another horrible project from OMA. Getting to be a dog-bites-man story.

Oct 15, 13 5:00 pm  · 
It's hard for me to believe the existing building is type 5B. Who is the ny arch of record?
Oct 15, 13 6:42 pm  · 

gruen, the architect/professor involved, did his homework. 

Oct 15, 13 7:07 pm  · 

They probably put the code check work in the hands of an unpaid intern.  Got what they paid for.

Oct 15, 13 7:15 pm  · 

$50 million, code check by intern, yeah, sounds about right.

Oct 15, 13 7:16 pm  · 

How did they get a building permit if their code summary/plans weren't up to snuff? Did they pay-off the plan reviewers at the city?

Oct 15, 13 7:24 pm  · 

obviously it should be torn down and rebuilt and replaced with a walmart.

a lotta crock from a croc.

Oct 15, 13 7:43 pm  · 

They used to say "all great buildings leak." Now we have a few more things to add to the list. 

Oct 15, 13 7:56 pm  · 

"a lotta crock from a croc."

that's how i would have said it if i was eloquent.  but i'm not.  so, i'll let will speak for me on this one.

Oct 15, 13 7:59 pm  · 

Well, I can always count on some great scathing wit here on Archinect. Ya'll don't disappoint. Thanks for the good chuckles.

Concerning the third to last paragraph in my original post above, I incorrectly state that the building is "non-compliant" with regard to allowable building area. The correct term is "non-conforming". Professor Ochshorn explains:

"Actually, the maximum allowable area is exceeded under current Codes, which would require a fire wall; but the building was found to be compliant under the peculiar 2002 Building Code of NYS, based on a unique provision added by NYS legislators that was subsequently repealed in the 2007 and 2010 Codes. So Milstein Hall was nonconforming (not meeting the standards of current codes), but not noncompliant in this respect. There were, however, other instances of noncompliance (I mentioned the Fine Arts Library on the 3rd floor of Rand Hall, and the crit room space with only one exit)."

The original analysis by Professor Ochshorn is a very informative and interesting refresher on life safety and building codes. It can be found here:

Oct 16, 13 12:41 am  · 
led signal light

and your video is not scathing? 

Oct 16, 13 1:57 am  · 

I am fascinated by this. I do wonder (without fully reading the report) if it's a tempest in a teapot regarding the issue of the permit being 'rushed' in terms of complying with the 2002 code, later "repealed" in the 2007/10 codes. I think any large building project works hard to keep an eye on the requirements of future codes in order that design work and assumptions are not undone in future code cycles. In other words, it is not unusual that a new building may be very soon non-conforming when a new code cycle comes in, especially larger buildings that may have a long design time. 

Of course, anything regarding non-compliance with the 2002 code is just a mistake pure and simple. 

The code reviewers at the City of Ithaca building department are not idiots, but are probably overworked. It's curious that something as large and auspicious as this building would have missed basic things such as exiting from assembly rooms. 

Oct 16, 13 10:36 am  · 

A more detailed critique is located here. Ochshorn's blog following the matter is here. Apparently the politics are thick and deep, which is not surprising being that it's Milstein Hall. And if the violations are "corrected"with variances - as seems to be the case - then there won't be any lawsuits and Koolhaas will come out of this clean. Alas, it's the O.J. Simpson rule again.

Oct 16, 13 11:06 am  · 

Read through it. He's done his homework, but he did lose a lot of the big issues when it was taken to the review board. I wonder how this affects his position at Cornell - he's criticizing the university he works for, and posting it publicly on Cornell's website. What fun. 

Oct 16, 13 11:08 am  · 

I wondered about that, too. I'd look for his position to be vacant ion the near future.

Oct 16, 13 11:13 am  · 
vado retro

if the existing buildings are 5b and have an occupancy group of b, then a red flag should have gone up at the get go since both buildings would have become non conforming with any new work.

Oct 16, 13 1:15 pm  · 
Tear it down.

This is barely serious. The dude is fighting a lost battle (not mention he's being petty) and it's not because OMA is incompetent. It's because they are better at this shit and have more experience than their reputation amongst the anti-intellectuals might expect.

Starchitects are not shite at the basics any more than corporate firms are.
Oct 16, 13 7:10 pm  · 

He appears to be a full tenured professor at Cornell. But this won't help his future regardless. 

Oct 16, 13 8:02 pm  · 

A tenured full professor doesn't need a future.

Oct 16, 13 8:21 pm  · 

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