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2016 Venice Architecture Biennale

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition is under the direction of Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect whose firm, Elemental S.A., won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2016. He has stated that, “the 15th International Architecture Exhibition will be about focusing and learning from architectures that are able to escape the status quo. Whether through intelligence, intuition, or both of them at the same time. We would like to present cases that propose and do something. We would like to show that in the permanent debate about the quality of the built environment, there is not only need but also room for action”.

The president of La Biennale supports Aravena by saying, “this Biennale intends to react once again to the gap between architecture and civil society, which in recent decades has transformed architecture into spectacle on the one hand, yet made it dispensable on the other. Among architects of the new generation, Alejandro Aravena is, in our opinion, the one who can best describe this reality and highlight its vitality.”

One of the biggest changes to this year’s Biennale is its extension, lasting from May 28- November 27. This is due to its growing popularity and conversation amongst architecture students throughout the world. Some of the big excitement from students has come from contributors such as Peter Zumthor, David Chipperfield, Herzog & de Meuron, Normal Foster, Renzo Paino, Rem Koolhaas, and SANAA. 33 of the Biennale participants are under the age of 40, which is an incredible feat showing the quality and sophistication that exists within youth in contemporary architecture practices and schooling. Themes for the exhibition are geared to promote important global issues, including:

  • Problems related to refugees and migration
  • The changing and evolving role of the home
  • The economic, new methods of construction
  • Construction labor issues
  • The need for low cost housing
  • Recycling & reuse


These issues are largely dealt with in graduate and undergraduate thesis projects, which could be a factor in the large draw to the millennial generation for this year’s, and recent years,’ Biennales.
Click here to see the complete list of 2016 Biennale participants.

The Switzerland 2016 Venice Bienale Pavilion, “Incidental Space,” under the direction of Zurich based architect Christian Kerez, is a provocative entry aimed to raise the controversial question of architecture’s role in production and experience. The pavilion’s installation encompasses a grotesque and cloudlike exterior with a gaping and corroded looking interior. The fibre-cement structure has two openings that have visual ambiguity inspired by geological, anatomical, and organic imagery.

With no direct intention for the piece, it is up to participants to define their own experience and determine the significance of the project.

As Kerez describes, "What we were looking for here is openness in terms of meaning; it's not a symbolic space, it is not a referential space, it allows you to initiate a pure encounter with architecture."
The model building began with experimenting with sugar and dust, which led to the final result of a full scale plotted and CNC milled structure. However, the extensive use of 3D modeling software to create the knobby and decrepit forms, did not take precedence over the physical manifestation of the piece. The “return to hand” in this year’s Bienale is a value that has been reinforced by hot ticket participant Peter Zumthor. Primitive in principle and form, “Incidental Space” is a euphoric and stark departure that seeks to challenge and redefine ideas of beauty, production and experience in contemporary practice.

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We have a strong focus on sustainability. Among the products and services we offer to promote this effort is environmental surveying. Environmental surveyors use general surveying techniques to investigate and identify the potential impact of environmental factors on construction and real estate developments, and vice versa. In other words, environmental surveying seeks to understand the symbiotic relationship that exists between the environment and architectural development.

A baseline—or control—environmental survey is typically conducted just before or during the initial stages of a project. This multi-disciplinary survey seeks to identify the potential for past and present site contamination from hazardous materials, petroleum products, and other pollution sources and identifies possible environmental or occupational health vulnerabilities and risks. Environmental surveys are commonly undertaken on sites adversely impacted by hazardous substances toward creating a reclamation or mitigation plan.

Once baseline data is determined the usual next step is a topography survey to collect information on the existing physical features of a particular area. These surveys are common when designing buildings, roads, subdivisions, parking lots, utility corridors, or athletic fields, for example, as they show horizontal and vertical dimensions and elevations of the parcel, utility structures, preexisting buildings and parking areas, and roads.

Environmental surveys are also used to conduct:

  • Flood risk assessments on new construction
  • Contaminated land assessments to determine the threat level posed to proposed or existing buildings
  • Environmental screening to determine whether the property may be susceptible to some type of environmental hazard such as ground gas, polluted soil, or contaminated water
  • Monitoring well water for potential pollution risks
  • Fire risk assessments
  • Asbestos surveys in older structures

Environmental surveyors rely on various data sources to generate their reports, including:

  • Historical data from older surveys and maps
  • Water sampling
  • Earth sampling
  • Geometric data
  • Geographic information systems to cross-reference map and statistical data
  • Visual inspections

For more information please contact us.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when beginning a job is a project feasibility study.

Clients have financial, economic, and design objectives. Meeting these objectives while managing costs is a challenge for the architectural team as well as for contractors, construction managers and consultants. A viable project integrates both quality design and effective cost management.

A feasibility study analyzes all of the aspects of a project, such as financial and other resources, technical aspects and market demand. It also includes site analysis, code and zoning research and in some cases, an energy analysis.  Feasibility studies can create a planning process to test assumptions, identify the scope of work, estimate budgets, build confidence in the project and make the project vision a reality.

The architect tailors each feasibility study to meet the needs of the client. It usually begins with a site evaluation to determine if the site is suitable for the intended project. Building code and zoning reviews establish whether the project will comply with applicable ordinances and rules.

For example, if the client wants to put an addition on their building, the feasibility study will determine if it is legal and propose possible alternatives or variances. After the architect develops a design, the next step is a budget. Based on square footage and using industry standards, construction costs are estimated.  For most condominium or co-op projects, the information generated is available for presentations to committees and boards when seeking funds for the project.

A well-researched feasibility study can go far towards identifying challenges and in some cases, avoiding future problems with the project. An experienced architectural firm will meticulously research and create the necessary reports.

Contact us for more information on our project feasibility and zoning reporting services.

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Chanel Boutique Façade by MVRDV

MVRDV has recreated a façade for a Chanel boutique in Amsterdam made of glass brick. In attempt to revive the local character of the neighborhood, MVRDV used the glass bricks to create a literal and a symbolic transparency between the interior and the exterior with an unconventional material.

Working with researchers from Delft University, the engineering firm ABT and the contractor Wessels Zeist, MVRDV developed the specially designed and recyclable bricks, which utilized:

  • high tech lasers
  • lab-grade UV lamps
  • high-strength transparent glue

Despite its lightness in appearance, this unconventional structure’s strength is comparable to concrete, allowing the architects to seamlessly transition from glass bricks at the storefront to traditional terra cotta brick at the top. With its innovative mix of old and new technologies, the design seeks to restore the local character of the shopping district while providing the individuality expected in such high-end flagship retail stores.

To stay up-to-date on international architecture news, make sure to follow our Facebook page.

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931

New York City is following Edison's lead and putting its money on the sun and solar energy. One City Built to Last is a plan to reduce New York City's emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) offers innovative financing options for energy efficiency and resiliency measures, including green mortgages and direct lending products that underwrite energy savings into the loan. The City will also explore modifications to the J-51 housing tax credit and the use of Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs) to encourage additional investments in efficiency measures.

We've all seen the pictures of solar panels sticking out on rooftops, today solar power and renewable energy roof designs don't have to be unattractive. A source book from the NREL shows buildings with different styles and colors of solar arrays. Most panels are blue, brown, and black, but some PV manufacturers can fill special orders for colors such as gold, green, and magenta. Imagine a vegetated roof with jewel-tone solar panels among the greenery. Solar shingles are available in New York too. And yes, New York City gets enough sun for solar roof systems. New York City receives more sunlight than Germany, which has the highest solar penetration per-capita in the world, and is on pace for a record-breaking year of installed solar in 2016. There is even a solar map that shows solar installations the city.

New York City's higher electricity costs and the City's property tax abatement for solar means investments in solar energy pay back more quickly in the City than the rest of the state. Scott Henson Architect believes preservation and adaptive re-use of historic buildings is an effective tool for sustainable stewardship.

Scott Henson Architect can design a beautiful energy-efficient roof for your building that will not only look great but will save you money.

Contact us today to learn more.

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When Sidewalks Attack

Winter is over but it's effects are still taking a toll on our sidewalks. Due to New York winters, the chemicals and salt used to clear the snow from the streets damage the sidewalks. While it is necessary to clear the snow, the wear and tear of winter can do a number on our sidewalks.

You've seen them - uneven and cracked sidewalks. You may have even felt them by getting your heel caught in a crack or tripping over buckled concrete. When sidewalks attack, it's time to consider sidewalk replacement.

In order to fix your unsightly sidewalk, you should engage a professional firm that is experienced with the New York City Administrative Code Sidewalk Rules and the repair and replacement of sidewalks and vaults.  

A sidewalk replacement project can involve:

  • Designing and specifying structural and paving details
  • Filing and obtaining necessary city agency permits
  • Contractor bidding and negotiation
  • Construction management

In addition to the basics listed above, many businesses and homeowners find that beautification is an important reason to engage a sidewalk replacement expert. 

By adding well-conceived paving plans that takes into consideration the types of materials that can best withstand traffic, you can improve the aesthetics of your building.  

A more attractive external appearance improves the sense of arrival for a visitor or customer, resulting in better foot traffic for a business.  Likewise, an appealing sidewalk-scape will contribute to the long-term value of your property.   

Scott Henson Architect specializes in sidewalk replacement, paving plans, and street tree designs. Contact us to start the conversation about using aesthetics to improve the value of your property.

New York City is a place with a rich history, a buzzing atmosphere, and commanding architecture.  Natives and travelers alike regularly walk past sites of historic and aesthetic value unaware of the potential that lines the block. Adaptive reuse in New York City is a viable option for those who are looking to place a new function, and get new value from a building or site.  

Adaptive reuse is the practice of refitting existing architecture to meet new needs. This form of urban revitalization is becoming more common due to the practical solutions it provides for many urban centers, but it has a long tradition with New York City.

Infrastructure reflects the growth and change of a population.  New York City has always embodied this principle by adopting new purposes for old buildings, while recognizing the history of the site. The High Line, a park on Manhattan's West Side, started out as an industrial freight line and now functions as a unique, cultural attraction that provides a window to the past.  An old printing press in Brooklyn was recently transformed into a creative work space for freelancers.  Many former industrial production sites across the city now serve as apartments, department stores, and restaurants.  Many of these sites preserve certain unique architectural traits.  This provides a quality that brings together the new function of the site with the existing character.

Adapting a new function for old buildings also cuts out several phases of the design and build process.  One of these is demolition.  This saves the architects and engineers from designing an entirely new building, and saves the client money.  It also creatively challenges the designers to meet the needs of the client, while utilizing the existing structure. 

Adaptive reuse has many benefits which have helped shape the character of New York City for over two centuries.  This practice is becoming more common, and is inspiring creative solutions for the use of old architecture.  To learn more, contact us.

Located on the lower west side of Manhattan, the Fleming Smith Warehouse is situated on the southeast corner of Washington and Watts Streets in the neighborhood now known as TriBeCa. Prior to its transformation into a commercial center during the mid-19th century, TriBeCa was among the first residential neighborhoods to develop beyond the boundaries of colonial New York City, with development beginning in the late 18th century.

In 1891 Stephen Decatur Hatch, a prolific and respected architect who would go on to design such important structures as the Princeton Club (1891) and the Former New York Life Insurance Company Building (1895), was contracted by Fleming Smith to design the warehouse in an amalgamation of Romanesque Revival and neo-Flemish architectural styles. Neo-Flemish design elements were popular during this time period and often freely combined with features of other European architectural styles as a nod to Manhattan’s Dutch roots. It originally functioned as a shoe factory and a storehouse for wine.

The most pronounced Romanesque elements of the Fleming Smith Warehouse façade are its rusticated stone base, segmental arches, and symmetrically grouped windows. The ground floor is characterized by roughly hewn stone: granite at the base with sandstone above, topped with a stone cornice.  The upper floors transition to yellow brick with red brick quoining at the corners with keyed enframements bordering each window grouping. The two upper floors are divided from the rest of the façade by an intricate sandstone water table.

The Watts Street façade is characterized by a central, highly ornamental copper-trimmed gable flanked by two crow-stepped gables at each corner, intricate wrought iron balconies and two projecting dormer windows clad in decorative copper. The Washington Street façade is crowned with a fanciful copper-lined stepped central gable above a large segmental arched window flanked by two more projecting copper dormers.  The central gable is adorned with the initials “FS” and the date “1891,’ fabricated in copper.  The peaks of each dormer were once adorned with large decorative copper finials, duplicates of which are currently in the process of being fabricated and restored at all former locations. This Warehouse, with its handsome combination of architectural elements and its picturesque silhouette, is a visually striking building and enhances the commercial area surrounding it.

In the late 1970’s, the Fleming Smith Warehouse became the first commercial building in TriBeCa to be converted for residential use. In 2005, a complete façade restoration was performed by Scott Henson Architects, LLC.

If you own an historic building, please contact us to learn more about how we can assist you with repairs, restoration and preservation.

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Compliance With Local Law 11 Cycle 8

New laws are often enacted after there has been some sort of tragedy. Local Law 10, later 11, is no exception.

In 1980, a piece of masonry fell from a building and a pedestrian was killed. To help prevent this from happening again, The New York City Council amended the building code. Building exteriors now had to be inspected by a properly licensed engineer or architect. This was called the Local Law 10 of 1980.

The Local Law 10 of 1980 was amended and became the Local Law 11 of 1998. It is also referred to as "FISP," the Facade Inspection Safety Program.  It represents the oldest enforced facade inspection law in the nation, with over 12,500 buildings falling under its jurisdiction. 

There have been different inspection cycles under this law. Cycles 1 through 7 ran from the inception of the law until February, 2013. The current Cycle 8 began February 21, 2015 and will run until February 21, 2019.

These rules apply to buildings that are higher than 6 stories in height. If there is a question whether inspection and reporting is applicable, there is a website where the current FISP status can be checked. That website is here. The exterior walls and appurtenances must be checked by a licensed inspector, a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI). There is a two-year window within which this inspection must be done, and this window cycles every 5 years. All exterior walls must be examined.

There is a Critical Report that must be filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB). The classifications in the resultant report are Safe, Unsafe, or Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program (SWARMP).

  • Safe applies to a building that will not become unsafe within the next five years
  • Unsafe is a condition of a building wall, any appurtenances thereto, or any part thereof, that is hazardous to persons or property and requires prompt repair." An unsafe condition must be corrected within 30 days. Extensions are permitted if certain conditions are met.
  • SWARMP is something that is safe at the time of inspection, but will need repair or maintenance within the next five years.

There are filing fees that apply to these reports.

When it comes to Cycle 8, there have been some changes that affect report filings.

  1. Prior to Cycle 8, if an air conditioner was considered unsafe, that designation then applied to the whole building. Now, an unsafe air conditioner is permitted a SWARMP designation. 
  2. Reports must now be filed within 60 days of completion, or a new examination is required.  This keeps reporting up-to-date and accurate.
  3. The third change involves fees. If a report has been rejected twice, a new fee is charged to cover the cost of the third report review.

If you are still finishing taking care of business from Cycle 7, it is time to finish that now. The Sub-Cycle 8A runs from February 21, 2015 to February 21, 2017.  If your building comes up for inspection, and you still not have completed a Cycle 7 SWARMP, well, you can see the potential problem. Cycle 7 repairs need to be completed now.

Contact us so we can help you come into compliance with Local Law 11, Cycle 8, as well as complete any Cycle 7 repairs.