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  • A cast-iron structure is restored with traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques.

    THE ARCHITECT'S NEWSPAPER

    A cast-iron structure is restored with traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques.
     Jack Kucy
    Scott Henson Architect with Gilsanz Murray Steficek Local Law 11/98 is a New York City statute mandating that any building of more than six stories must have its facade inspected once every five years. Scott Henson of Scott Henson Architect was undertaking just such an inspection on the historic 1892 Cleverdon & Putzel–designed Banner Building in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood when he discovered something rather disturbing. The structure’s cast iron face—both its decorative elements, many of which had fallen off over the years, as well as its structural supports and bracing—was severely corroded. The condition was even worse on the top two floors, an 1898 addition that featured sheet metal decorative elements, which had deteriorated to the point that, in places, a person could press their fingers through them. Making matters even shabbier, the sandstone pilasters that framed the facade’s cast iron bands had worn down to a faded memory and the original single-paned wood windows had decayed beyond repair. The building owner and the project team, which included structural engineering firm Gilsanz Murray Steficek and historical research firm Office for Metropolitan History, agreed that the only way to proceed was to restore the facade by making every effort to adhere to its original materials and traditional means of construction.
       
    The restoration team relied on a combination of traditional and contemporary materials and construction techniques. The cast iron and sheet metal facade was removed, repaired or re-fabricated, and replaced with new structural connections.
     
    One of the chief causes of the facade’s decline, aside from time itself, was severe water leakage, which had caused the original structural imbeds connecting the cast iron and sheet metal elements to the masonry backing wall to rust to a critical state. The team removed all of the metal elements and inspected them carefully. This analysis revealed that about 80 percent of the cast iron could be reconditioned and replaced on the building. This involved stripping the elements of the ten or so layers of paint that had been applied over the years and patching the odd non-fatal crack with Belzona Supermetal epoxy. Those elements that were beyond repair, or missing, were recast by Robinson Iron in Alabama using samples of the original facade to create new molds. The sheet metal was in worse shape. Approximately half the elements, including egg and dart frieze, scroll moldings, rosettes, and medallion reliefs, needed to be re-fabricated, a job tackled by CCR Sheet Metal in Brooklyn.
    J. Scott Howell
         
    Once all of the elements had been reproduced or repaired, they were painted patina green (the owner’s preference) and returned to the site, ready for installation. The team designed new structural supports for this purpose: structural stainless-steel bolts that pass all the way through the masonry backing wall and connect to plates on either side, holding the wall in compression. The sheet metal was attached and soldered together, and the cast iron was attached and caulked, making the whole assembly watertight and ready for another 100-plus years of life. The team also hired an artisan who was able to discern the original decorative character of the sandstone pilasters and re-create them with a sandstone patching material from Cathedral Stone. Replacing the 54 windows required a similarly close historical analysis of the existing conditions. The windows included pulley double-hung varieties and single pivoting sashes with transoms. J. Padin in New Jersey re-fabricated them based on the original historical profiles and materials. Here, however, 21st-century technology was also employed to improve the building’s insulation with high-performance glazing. As a final touch, the team also replaced the 1970s storefront. With little documentation available, Henson based a new design on what remained at street level as well as on clues implied by the fenestration above. The result is something of a rarity in Manhattan: a vintage cast iron building that retains its historic character from top to toe.
    Aaron Seward
      
     
    Sources
    Sheet Metal CCR Sheet Metal Cast Iron Robinson Iron Historic Wood Windows J. Padin 973-642-0550 Sandstone Cathedral Stone
     

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  • (De) and (Re) Construction

    As civilization (?) expanded westward, everything had to be built up from scratch. Developing new land, erecting new structures, creating new cities. But this era has long since passed. Even in China, where up to 20 new cities are being built every year, the bubble is about to burst. Construction is increasingly shifting from a practice of creating new built environments, to renovating , repairing, and sometimes just removing the existing structures. And what are we to do with all the existing materials? Re-using of materials has long been the mantra of our schoolchildren, and many industries have also seen the wisdom of providing for the recycling of the product in its end use. For example, in the US, 95% of “junked” cars are processed for recycling, with about 75% of the car’s manufactured content mostly metals) eventually being recycled for raw material use. One of the main reasons automobiles could be recycled was due to the nature of metals, and the ability to purify and separate out elements for re-use in their raw state. Construction is not quite so straightforward, since it involves many more materials which are intermixed within the same assembly. Possibly the “cleanest” of materials for construction reuse is concrete. The only problem has always been the removal of rebar, but one solution has been invented by a company in Ohio , who attached a magnet to the excavator bucket, which can be activated as it runs over a pile of crushed concrete to pull out the rebar. The cleaned, crushed concrete can be re-used for roadbed and rebar is fully recyclable. In some areas, this has grown to be a sizeable business, such as Recycled Materials Company, which was launched by the need to demolish and recycle the concrete at the old Stapleton Airport in Denver. More difficult is the repurposing of all the miscellaneous materials from deconstruction. Here again, there is a business opportunity. Instead of paying to have a building demolished, an owner can hire a deconstruction arm of a non-profit company (such as Habitat Re-Store) to remove the property as a donation to a material re-use store. The owner gets a tax deduction, and the store gets paid for receiving merchandise. They get paid again for selling it. Of course, the cost of removal may exceeds the removal revenue, but even then – Habitat uses volunteers! Renovation companies are growing. From my experience, the difference between a successful operation and a big junkyard is in the systematic documenting of materials, making this available on the web, and keeping good business practices. Overstuffed, cat-infested warehouses just get more material, tend to hike up their prices to overcome the low sales, and eventually go out of business. It is a business. One person who has done this well, in the re-use of industrial byproducts and waste for the use in construction and other industries is Damon Carson, of Repurposed Materials. Because the company is selective in the materials they gathers, and can provide a fairly steady supply, it is possible for entrepreneurial ventures like Luxwood to manufacture furniture with the use of reclaimed wood. The problem in developing a business model in construction which could accommodate the use of repurposed materials is the extra cost of sourcing this material and adjusting the construction process to accommodate for special installation. Such a scenario could be addressed through a “joint venture,” so to speak, with the owner as the scouting party. A scope would need to be developed for acceptable type of materials, and specifications developed to help guide owners choices. The material types might start with reliable local supplies of recycled materials. While this requires a higher degree of organization on the contractor’s part, in order to be more flexible without upsetting the core building process, I see evidence of this trend growing. Not only for homeowners, but also commercial properties – where owners are looking for more unique architecture.  

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