The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Integrating the Past into a Modern City

    Integrating the Past into a Modern City

    As the nature of cities has changed over time, so has the role that architecture has played in urban planning. Architecture is the construct which allows cities to be both beautiful and functional. But what does this mean, and how does architecture answer?

    During the nineteenth century, the urban centers in America were compared unfavorably with European cities. In Europe, cities were anchored by large cathedrals and public spaces, such as gardens and plazas, grand and ornate architecture from the past. In reaction, the City Beautiful movement arose in the US, culminating in the White City at the 1893 World's Fair. It was an attempt to instill some of the formal beauty, linear perspective, and stateliness of European grand cities onto American architecture.

    While many architects pushed back against this method of looking to the past for urban models, the movement did adapt to American spaces with planning that included parks, greenways, water elements, and other public spaces that reflected the American landscape's particular beauty. These public spaces were meant to fulfill the functions of European public plazas or formal gardens. They were areas for community, formal activity, meeting and information exchange.

    However, these new methods were not as successful as in theory. A concrete plaza with some benches and a fountain in front of a set-back Manhattan office building will never draw the social crowds that a small piazza hidden among the streets of Rome will welcome. In the same way, you will not see two pedestrians pausing for a quick chat on Fifth Avenue nearly as often as you’ll encounter this on the winding, narrow streets of Prague.  This has everything to do with scale. Modern architecture, although originally guided with the correct intentions, lost touch with the human along the way. Designers became more interested in discovering new philosophies and making bold statements than focusing on the daily interactions of the user.

    There is a reason why people still flock to old cities in Europe and historic downtown areas right in the United States. Buildings and streets were designed at a comfortable human scale, with shopfronts and other public uses built right into the street level. Work, home, and social spaces were all within walking distance of each other, creating vibrant communities. Of course, there are many modern needs that are not met in these historic models. We are a larger world with more people and active economies, leading our buildings to grow in size and diminish in ornament over the decades. We require modern technology and energy efficiency, making mechanical systems one of the most important aspects of any building designed today.

    However, there is a way we can meet modern needs while preserving the advantages of historic architecture and neighborhoods: It is through restoration and adaptive reuse of buildings and downtowns. Reusing what we already have is really the most urbanistic and environmentally conscience decision. Historic buildings can be retrofitted with mechanical systems, increased insulation value, and modern conveniences. Soaring glass and steel towers are not the only buildings well-suited for the modern world. Even in “new” cities like New York or Chicago, some of the oldest buildings are the most loved and the most successful.

    As specialists in historic preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse, we here at Scott Henson Architects know that these historic buildings can become perfectly useable for your businesses and homes, with all of the character, history, and comfort of the past. We will always be looking for the next great thing in architecture, as in any type of design, but it is important to not forget the resources we already have. We look forward to working with you on your next project.

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  • Spring Cleaning for Building Facades

    Spring Cleaning for Building Facades

    After the gray snow piles melt and the temperature rises, building owners seek out the help of licensed professionals to give their buildings a Spring Cleaning. Aesthetic improvement is typically the chief motivation behind façade cleaning, but buildings also need to be cleaned to reduce the risk of damage to the exterior surfaces from environmental contaminants. The type of atmospheric and environmental contaminants that buildings are exposed to in an urban environment must be removed in order to prevent further deterioration, accurately diagnose surface conditions, and prepare the building surface for paint and coating applications.

    Modern cities produce a great deal of acid rain that helps the contaminants in industrial and traffic fumes stick to the surfaces of buildings.  Lead and other heavy metals blow around in the dust, and stick to rough surfaces like concrete and brick. Smoke, soot, biological growth and other forms soiling can stain a building and obscure elements in the façade that need inspection.

    Evaluating and repairing the structural integrity of buildings is critical for their safety. Masonry and brick mortar can easily deteriorate in the presence of moss and lichen, acidic surface dirt and contamination, and other chemicals present on the surface. Inspecting and repairing the mortar and repointing is critical for the integrity of the building envelope. In many cases a thorough inspection isn't possible until after cleaning.

    The goal of a cleaning project is to clean the masonry while causing little or no damage to the façade surface. Several cleaning methods exist, however the correct method must be chosen to avoid overcleaning. Selection of a cleaning method depends on the nature of the façade materials, and the identified contaminants. The first step of any cleaning program is to characterize the soiling and identify its origins because soiling can often be a symptom of ongoing conditions which should be addressed before cleaning.

    The methods for cleaning are broken down into three categories: water washing, chemical cleaning, and abrasive cleaning.

    Water Washing

    The simplest and safest method of cleaning is washing with water. Water often softens soiling deposits. Water can be sprayed or misted continuously or intermittently with alternating wash cycles. Water pressure and steam are also popular methods of façade cleaning, however they require more sophisticated equipment and should be employed cautiously. 

    Chemical Cleaning

    When water is ineffective, a variety of chemical cleaners can be used. Detergents used in combination with water washing provide the gentlest cleaning. For heavier soiling, acidic cleaners can be used on materials such as sandstone and unpolished granite. For acid-sensitive materials such as limestone, marble and occasionally brick, Alkaline cleaners help to facilitate the removal of deposits, however a neutralizing acidic cleaner must be applied  before a final water rinse removes all cleaning residues. When used inappropriately, chemical cleaners can result in irreversible damage to the façade. Precautions must also be taken to protect workers from potential health hazards.

    Abrasive Cleaning

    Absrasive cleaning removes soiling by mechanically scraping, grinding or blasting the surface with a dry or wet medium. Abrasive cleaning methods are harsher than water and chemical cleaning. Common techniques include Soda blasting, Pelletized carbon dioxide blasting, Façade Gommage, and the Jos cleaning process, to name a few. Most of these methods require specially trained professionals and sophisticated equipment. The use of abrasive cleaning methods should be limited to prevent damage to the façade surface as dirt is removed. These cleaning methods can rough stone surfaces, remove decorative detail from carvings, loosen mortar, and etch unprotected metal and glass.

    Spring cleaning of building facades brings a beauty and sparkle back to city buildings after the gray of winter, allows for repair, and preserves historic facades. For more information on façade cleaning, please contact us.

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