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OMA's Milstein Hall

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OMA's Milstein Hall
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2024

Introductory remarks: Hi. I'm sorry I can't be with you this evening. I'm in Madrid—attending ASHRAE's International Building Decarbonization Conference—so, instead of providing a live guitar-oriented rendition of my new song, you'll be hearing a more orchestrated version.

I should clarify that, at this point, OMA's Milstein Hall refers to three separate things: first, of course, the dysfunctional building that you're in right now; second, my new open-access book about Milstein Hall, with the subtitle, A Case Study of Architectural Failure; and third, the song that I've written as a presentation vehicle.

First, a few words about the book: OMA's Milstein Hall is about architectural failure. In addition to some general observations and an occasional digression, the heart of the book is a rather detailed examination of dysfunction, inflexibility, fire hazard, nonstructural failure, and unsustainable design in the flagship building designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) for Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

There are 26 chapters in the book organized into four parts—with each part corresponding to one category of architectural failure:

The present book does not rehash the underlying theoretical arguments for nonstructural failure that appeared in my prior book, Building Bad; instead, it examines what such failure looks like in a single building—as a case study. My hope is that this book helps reorient architectural criticism away from subjective responses to form and expression, and toward more objective analyses of utilitarian functionality in buildings.

Now, if you were going to write a song about it, you might start off by asking…

VERSE 1a: What were they thinking
When this design was made
No one's eating and no one's drinking
Inside the arcade
Cause it's cold and dark and dismal sitting in the shade

VERSE 1b: Acoustic issues unaddressed
Sound goes everywhere
While windows facing to the west
Create annoying glare
Good luck, professor, if you have to give a lecture there

CHORUS 1: In OMA's Milstein Hall
Trapped inside a curtainwall
It's neither atrium nor mall
But it's got a junkspace1 pedigree
With shimmering mirrors, hybrid trusses, spatial continuity

VERSE 2: Unrestricted heat flow
Causes heat loss and heat gain
Thermal bridges melt the snow
But nothing stops the rain
The green roof can't absorb it so it courses down the drain

CHORUS 2: In OMA's Milstein Hall
Just when you think you've seen it all
There's a paranoid-critical toilet stall
To be deliriously enjoyed2
But no water-saving strategies are seriously employed

VERSE 3: Cracking everywhere that matters
Everywhere you face
A glass guard shatters
Metal trim falls out of place
Protruding objects threaten people walking in the space

CHORUS 3: In OMA's Milstein Hall
They say pride comes before a fall
So they rip it up and reinstall
The things that broke apart
In terms of architectural failure it's state-of-the-art

Instrumental chorus

VERSE 4: The crit room needs another fire door
For the occupancy load
While the size of the second floor
Exceeds limits in the code
All these life- and fire-safety issues are just waiting to explode

CHORUS 4: In OMA's Milstein Hall
They never built a fire wall
Yet architecture critics remain in thrall
They don't see the mess
Dangerous, dysfunctional—this building's in distress

VERSE 5: It's been leaking when it rains
From the roof to the foundation
They built a plaza with no drains
An inexplicable aberration
Inviting litigation
Defying gravitation
Causing efflorescent encrustation
And there's many more examples in my latest publication

CHORUS 5a: It's called OMA's Milstein Hall
It's a case study that tells it all
Its purpose is to help forestall
Making buildings that are bad
To promote health, safety, and welfare; and resist the latest fad

CHORUS 5b: Once again, the book is called OMA's Milstein Hall
No, you won't find it at the mall
So if you really want to read it all
Go to
For a free pdf or a purchase on Amazon
Yes you can read it on the web, download a pdf, or you can buy it on Amazon

Notes on the song: I wrote this song as a presentation vehicle for "Launchpad," a book launch event sponsored by the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University, scheduled for April 17, 2024. At first, I thought I would sing the song live, accompanied by guitar, but—as it turned out—I was away at a conference in Madrid, Spain, on that date, so I prepared this 7-minute recording for the presentation. The YouTube video was made public at the same time.

The book being "launched" with this video, OMA's Milstein Hall: A Case Study of Architectural Failure, is open-access (free), with a low-cost paperback version also available. Find information about the book here.

Production notes:
Music arranged and produced by Jonathan Ochshorn
Recorded with Logic Pro X software
Vocals: Jonathan Ochshorn
Background vocals: Jonathan Ochshorn
Real instruments: Jonathan Ochshorn (acoustic and electric guitars)
Software instruments played live on midi keyboard: Jonathan Ochshorn (drums, bass, piano, organ)
Recorded at home in Ithaca, NY, April 2024.

I made the video using Final Cut Pro, sitting at the Yamaha electronic piano in front of a green screen. I recorded the piano and vocal live, but ultimately replaced both the vocal and some of the piano parts (while syncing the new vocals to the original video). The piano solos (at the very start of the video, and for the instrumental break after Chorus #3) were recorded live and were not edited or replaced.

Animation of lyrics and book page placements, as illustrated in the screenshot below, were rendered by Robert M Ochshorn while he was traveling on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, "a grand west coast train adventure, en route daily between Los Angeles and Seattle."

screenshot from video showing sample text (in red) and book page placement

Footnotes (for lyrics):

1 The reference to Junkspace and the shimmering mirrors, hybrid trusses, and spatial continuity in Milstein Hall is explained in the book, OMA's Milstein Hall — notes are omitted from the text quoted below, but you can find them in the free, open-access book:

Koolhaas's "Junkspace," written just a few years before OMA began the Milstein Hall project, may provide some insight into the origin of the arcade's dysfunction, although it is risky to allege such links between the office's theory and practice. In this article, a brilliant 7,500-word rant formatted into a single, continuous paragraph, the enclosed mall (aka Junkspace) comes under withering attack:

Junkspace seems an aberration, but it is the essence, the main thing… the product of an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning, conceived in an incubator of Sheetrock (all three missing from the history books). Continuity is the essence of Junkspace; it exploits any invention that enables expansion, deploys the infrastructure of seamlessness: escalator, air-conditioning, sprinkler, fire shutter, hot-air curtain… It is always interior, so extensive that you rarely perceive limits; it promotes disorientation by any means (mirror, polish, echo)…

This hyperbolic descriptive text soon turns into an explicitly anti-atrium warning: "Note to architects: You thought that you could ignore Junkspace, visit it surreptitiously, treat it with condescending contempt or enjoy it vicariously… […] But now your own architecture is infected, has become equally smooth, all-inclusive, continuous, warped, busy, atrium-ridden…" And not only that, this atrium culture fosters complacency and destroys our ability to think: "Junkspace is political. It depends on the central removal of the critical facility in the name of comfort and pleasure." So it's possible that this ideological posturing had some influence on the decision to leave Milstein Hall's arcade unconditioned, unenclosed, and—most importantly—without any formal or functional references to the despised prototype of the atrium/mall.

On the other hand, the danger of taking such theoretical diatribes seriously as determinants of OMA's practical design strategies can be illustrated by the following passage from the same article, where the text disparages vast open spaces, not that dissimilar to Milstein Hall's studio floor—a space with no walls, except for a shimmering, mirror-like stainless steel electrical closet enclosure, that is penetrated and supported by huge hybrid trusses:

There are no walls, only partitions, shimmering membranes frequently covered in mirror or gold. Structure groans invisibly underneath decoration, or worse, has become ornamental; small, shiny, space frames support nominal loads, or huge beams deliver cyclopic burdens to unsuspecting destinations.

2 The "paranoid-critical toilet stall" being "deliriously enjoyed" is a sly reference to OMA-co-founder Rem Koolhaas's reliance upon Salvador Dali's so-called paranoid-critical method (pcm) to provide theoretical underpinning for his 1978 book, Delirious New York.