cornell university / spring 2023 / 4 months
instructors: billie faircloth + curt gambetta

The building life story of the Marketing and Education Center is that of disguised environmental harm. Kodak had a much larger footprint within the Rochester community beyond the MEC in Henrietta. The primary manufacturing location, Kodak Park, exists in parallel with the center – they are both sites of intense chemical use, but with very conflicting public personas. 
For decades, Kodak was the cornerstone of Rochester’s economy and livelihood. Everyone knew someone who worked for Kodak, if not themselves. They were highly regarded in the community for years, and it wasn’t until a major pipe spill in 1988, where 30,000 gallons of methylene chloride was spilled near the Kodak Park neighborhood, where public perception of Kodak began to shift. The community began to realize that Kodak was a chemical manufacturing company, and neighborhood alliances began to form as people attempted to sell their homes and move away from Kodak Park. The government and Kodak helped homeowners on Rand Street match the cost of their home, but many residents in the larger Koda-Vista area were not afforded compensation, despite the state designating their neighborhood as an inactive hazardous site. 
The Marketing and Education, strategically located far from the manufacturing sites, served a different purpose – to sell and educate people about Kodak’s products. Without the MEC teaching people to sell their products, the business conducted in Kodak Park would not have been the same. The idyllic landscape, the beautiful starchitect designed building – all tactics to disguise the chemical externalities that allowed for people to feel so special and important conducting sales in the MEC.
Despite Kodak bringing so much harm to the community, the sentimental connection to Kodak endured for decades. During the demolition of building 53 in Kodak Park in 2015, people who had worked there for years prior were tearing up – even those who had been burned by chemicals there in the past. 
The lifecycle drawing follows methylene chloride, the chemical spilled during the 1988 Kodak pipe leak. It is not a naturally occurring chemical, and it is first manufactured in laboratories. At Kodak, it was used as a solvent for the manufacturing of photo film. It is mixed with cellulose acetate to create what they called “dope”, a liquid that is then turned into film. It is poured onto film sheets, and as the sheets go through the rolling machines, the methylene chloride is evaporated.
Methylene chloride was released into the environment by Kodak in both liquid and gas form. Gallons of the chemical were released into the Genesee River, where it either infiltrated into the groundwater or evaporated into the air. Faulty, corroded sewer lines and other pipes were discovered to have leaked methylene chloride directly into the soil, again eventually contaminating the groundwater. The gaseous form was simply directly emitted from the Kodak plant. 
The primary form of studied exposure for humans is through inhalation of the chemical, which can lead to mild symptoms like headache or fatigue, to severe symptoms such as brain damage, liver damage, irregular heartbeat, and an elevated risk of cancer.
The scale of the contamination is impossible to calculate due to the complexity of wind patterns and groundwater movement. Once in the air, methylene chloride has a half life of 6 months, however it is unknown how long the chemical remains within the groundwater system.

The project timeline begins in 1880 with the invention of the first cellulose nitrate film, the beginning of these harmful chemicals being used by Kodak. Following the Right to Know Act of 1986, light was finally shed on the breadth of Kodak’s environmental pollution thanks to the Toxic Release Inventory Program. However, emissions continued to increase, not hindered in any way by public opinion or by federal and state laws. After the methylene chloride pipeline spill of 1988, Kodak was involved in a number of lawsuits, all of which failed to hold Kodak truly responsible for their environmental harm.
The reparations ordered by the court following Kodak’s environmental infringements were simply a slap on the hand, as Kodak continued to pollute at astronomical levels with a blatant disregard for the wellbeing of the community. The three scenarios imagine what could have occurred had Kodak taken the reparations seriously, proposing larger responses to their environmental harm. The scenarios are concerned with the health and healing of humans, non-humans and the environment as a whole, employing both preventative and corrective action.

Scenario 1: Water, 1995
This scenario begins with the pipe spill of 1988 and the subsequent tests showing that the groundwater is contaminated with both methylene chloride and trichloroethylene. Following this discovery, Kodak was ordered to pay fines for violating federal environmental laws, and they were also sued by the federal government in 1994, paying $5 million and promising to fix broken sewer pipes. 
But what if they took the reparations seriously? From 1990 to 1994, Kodak was the largest polluter of carcinogens, persistent toxic metals and reproductive toxins into land and surface water in NYS. Both subwatersheds within which the MEC and Kodak Park are located are considered to be high priority in the Genesee River Element Plan, and the Genesee River is an important habitat and migratory bird corridor. Additionally, New York has lost almost half of its historic wetlands to filling and draining, and it can be extrapolated that past Kodak sites were likely built over wetlands, which only became protected after 1975. 
Collaborating with the Genesee River Watch and the NYS Department of Environmental Protection, the building serves as the headquarters for the installation of water quality monitoring devices along the Genesee River, and the large footprint of the site is turned into a constructed wetland to passively aid in the filtering of groundwater and protect the river from polluted runoff. There is also an educational water museum for people to come learn about the water in their community, efforts to remediate it, and what they can do in their own homes to make a positive impact. 
Demolition of a portion of the building allows for the selling of the steel for funds, and additional land space for wetland construction. Changes to the riverbank on the site would be used as a blueprint for further intervention along the river at other points.
Scenario 2: Soil, 2014
In 2012, the federal government began to investigate Kodak’s environmental responsibility and clean-up obligations of their pollution in NY and NJ. Many of the investigated sites are designated as superfund sites. Negotiations began with the EPA about a monetary penalty, and in 2013 the EPA made a public statement that they don’t believe that $49 million would be enough. However, in 2014, that is the exact amount for which they settled out of court, with the government matching Kodak’s amount. There was a large public outcry, criticizing the lack of responsibility the government placed on Kodak. 
Much of the land in western NY is used for agriculture, and our site is located at the turning point where the Rochester city center turns into farmland. Agriculture poses a great risk to soil health, and one of the main pollutants in the Genesee River is phosphorus from agricultural runoff. 
This scenario proposes an ex-situ treatment center for the hazardous soil, with Kodak paying a larger brunt of the cost. The soil material is brought to the site from the extensive number of brownfield and Superfund sites within Monroe County. There are research labs for RIT scientists to study soil treatment solutions, and the extensive footprint of the site allows for a living lab study of agroforestry and other sustainable agricultural practices through collaboration with Monroe County Farm Bureau volunteers.
Agroforestry techniques employed on the site include alley cropping and forest farming. The increased crop diversity brings improved soil health and water quality, and positively impacts wildlife habitats. Ecopiles, a combination of biopiling and phytoremediation, are employed on the site to passively remediate soil through microbial biodegradation. 

Scenario 3: Body, 2000
In 1998, a cluster of rare types of brain cancers were connected in Rochester. The families of 6 children, all diagnosed with brain cancer, sued Kodak for $185 million. The EPA suspected methylene chloride to be a carcinogen, but they did not take a stance on it because it had not yet been proven in humans. Since 1976, there had been 68 of these rare cases of cancer in Monroe County. Despite supposed efforts to cut emissions, Kodak remained New York State’s top polluter, releasing thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, sulfur, dioxide and microscopic soot into the air in just 1995. The suit was dropped.
This scenario imagines what could have happened had the families won the lawsuit. Since the cancers were not limited to the 6 families, one of the conditions of the lawsuit is that Kodak must actively provide back to the community at large. The families decide to give back a portion of the funds from the lawsuit to help open the new care center for cancer and neurological and respiratory diseases. The MEC, poised to be abandoned at the time, is chosen as the new site for the endeavor. The landscape is reforested, returning it to its pre-agricultural state, cleansing the air and bringing the health benefits of forest bathing and views of nature from patients’ rooms.
The redesign of the building emphasizes the main principle from Roger Ulrich’s landmark study “View through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery” (1984), being that views of nature increase positive patient outcomes in healthcare settings. Views are maximized throughout the building, in the patient rooms, the chemotherapy center, and the walkway to the center is excavated. Principles of biophilia such as natural-feeling materials, skylights and interior courtyards are brought into the building. The patient rooms are individual occupancy, provide ample space for equipment and visitors, allow for natural light and ventilation, and curtains and shading are added for increased privacy.

On April 20, 2023, the EPA finally announced a proposal for a ban of all consumer and most industrial and commercial uses of Methylene Chloride, 35 years after the original Kodak pipe spill.
Back to Top