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Ballad of Building Bad

Listen on Soundcloud | Watch on YouTube page | Initial version | Check out "unplugged" live performance

I wrote this song in June and July of 2021, thinking it might be a way of drawing attention to my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression. The three verses all relate to various chapters in the book: Verse 1 comes from Chapter 3 on "Fire Safety"; Verse 2 comes from Chapter 4 on "Accessibility"; and Verse 3 derives from Chapter 11 on "Modernist Abstraction and Dysfunction." But there is a big difference between the song and the book. Where the book is objective and analytical, the song is expressive and emotional. The point is that these two types of activities can coexist quite nicely in books and songs, respectively, but are increasingly maladaptive and counterproductive within works of architecture. Why, exactly? Read the book.

Ballad of Building Bad
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2021

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 so beggars can't be choosers

And it's based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad

Building bad

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
As the risk of failure grows and grows as forms get increasingly complex

And fashionable dysfunction is more than just a passing fad

Building bad

Production notes:
Music arranged and produced by J. Ochshorn
Recorded with Logic Pro X software
Video edited with Final Cut Pro software
Vocals and backup vocals: J. Ochshorn
Real instruments played live with vocals: J. Ochshorn (acoustic guitar, harmonica)
Software instruments played live on midi keyboard: J. Ochshorn (piano, drums, bass)
Recorded at home in Ithaca, NY, September 2021.