The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Park Avenue Armory

    Herzog & de Meuron
    Pattern Language: In an ongoing restoration and renovation of a New York City landmark, the architects bring subtlety and boldness to the process.

    By Suzanne Stephens

    Certain modern architects view the restoration of historic buildings like an archaeological dig that exhumes alterations over time and places the resulting evidence on display. Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron (with Platt Byard Dovell White as executive architect) approached the restoration of the Park Avenue Armory between 66th and 67th Streets in New York in this manner. The architects also introduce an intriguing process where their own interventions add a new layer to their exposure of the sediments of history.

    The Armory, a Gothic Revival brick fortress designed by Charles Clinton in 1880 for the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard, required repair work on the exterior along with requisite infrastructural and code-compliant upgrades. In addition to the revitalization of a 55,000-square-foot drill hall, the team confronted an array of 18 period rooms originally fitted out by legendary designers, architects, and decorators such as Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, Stanford White, and the Herter Brothers. Some of the art-encrusted rooms used by the affluent volunteers to the National Guard remain almost intact; others were shabbily altered. In 2006, the nonprofit Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, with Rebecca Robertson as president and executive director, leased the five-story structure from the state to create an adventurous arts venue for dance, theater, and art performances, plus exhibitions, along with artists-in-residence studios. (And it will still continue to house 100 homeless women in its upper reaches.) The $200 million restoration—of which $84 million has been spent—is expected to be completed in five years.

    While the Conservancy wanted to keep the lushness of the late-19th-century architecture and design, Robertson feared the stiffness and embalmed quality of meticulous period restorations. She turned to Herzog & de Meuron, impressed by the firm's inventive deployment of materials, surfaces, and craft in its work. “Seeing the copper-clad Signal Box in Basel [1995] was crucial,” she says. In the fall of 2011, two period rooms by Herzog & de Meuron opened to the public. As partner Ascan Mergenthaler explains, the team worked with each room's basic identity, choosing not to eliminate all traces of later modifications. The idea was to show the evolution of the rooms “as a wash of time,” in Robertson's words. The tortuous task involved delayering (manually or chemically stripping recent accretions from the surfaces) as well as overprinting (see below), which simulates abstractly underlying patterns—in addition to cleaning and restoration. With the second floor's Renaissance Revival room for Company D, designed in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus, the team restored the original mahogany woodwork, plus a herringbone parquet floor that replaced the 1880 one.

    Originally, the ceilings and walls were stenciled, but later had been covered by Adamesque plaster scrollwork and painted, with other areas concealed by plasterboard. Where areas were damaged by the removal of the scrollwork and other scars of use, the team glazed the surface with a reddish field color discovered to be typical of the background's metallic paints. The stenciling under the plasterboard remained intact in the delayering. In the next part of the process, the architects printed a new pattern on top of the original circular stenciling to create an integrated tracery that picked up the background's copper tones. The stenciled, laser-cut pattern appears distinct from the original stenciling owing to its abstraction of basic geometric shapes, but retains the size and proportions of existing patterns, albeit emphasized with a metallic shimmer. The architects also designed a chandelier similar in proportion to the original gaslit one, but this time with copper arms and tinted-glass globes over halogen lamps. New copper chain-link curtains add a gleam to the room while shielding glare from the windows (aided by window coverings).

    All of this subtle surgery creates an evocative space for small dinners and receptions and requires more than one keen glance to know that a modern architect was there. Another room on the second floor, for Company E, also decorated in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus in the Renaissance Revival style, offers an easier setting in which to detect the presence of the modern architect. A new gridded bronze lighting fixture dominates the space. Here, too, Herzog & de Meuron removed the Tudor Revival plaster strapwork and wallpaper, added in 1892, to reveal the earlier stenciling, and repaired damaged spots with plaster in a copper field color matching the surroundings. Since the room will be used for small theatrical and musical performances, the team wanted a lighting fixture that could be raised and lowered. While the modern fixture seems ungainly in comparison with the firm's more nuanced gestures, it fits in with the raw, austere look of the cleaned oak paneling. One of Herzog & de Meuron's more daring future proposals concerns the Colonel's Reception Room on the south side of the first floor, originally designed by the Herter Brothers. Its French black walnut paneling has remained reasonably intact, yet almost everything above a certain datum is too far gone to be delayered. So the architects suggest covering upper woodwork—which had been added later—plus walls and ceiling with a removable white paint. Since the space is planned to be used as a conductor's suite and for other events, the mixed time warp arguably would provide an arresting backdrop. Nearby they envision converting a room into a copper-lined “megavator” to take heavy loads to the second floor, and for a moving performance space.

    Not every move is as provocative: Herzog & de Meuron is making few visible interventions in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, now the arena for a number of theatrical and dance productions. Nevertheless, the firm hopes to strip the lower parts of the hall to reveal the full arc of the room's barrel-vaulted cast-iron trusses. Then on the first floor, the Field and Staff Room, also designed by Pottier & Stymus, replete with taxidermied animal heads, will be redone as a bar, with a new copper ceiling, chandelier, and fittings. The architects' proposal for the mostly intact library on the other side of the main corridor involves taking the room originally designed by Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, with a young Stanford White as consultant, back to its 1880 decorative scheme, lost in part after its conversion to a trophy gallery.

    For its new use as an archive for the history of the Armory, Herzog & de Meuron plans to repaint the ceiling where the original panels are too far gone, and reinstate bookshelves. The restoration should complement the intact Veterans Room next door, also executed by Tiffany, White, et al. The architects' efforts so far have generated a refulgent ambience with a warm coppery glow, a burnished gleam in the walls and ceilings, and a lustrous sheen of the wood paneling. As Jorge Otero-Pailos states (page 42), Herzog & de Meuron's work specializes in echoing the original, transformed by time.

    The ingenious approach shows that today's modern architects can still capture a sense of the new, while enhancing and revivifying the old.

    Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

    Executive Architect: Platt Byard Dovell White

    Location: 643 Park Avenue, New York, USA

    Completion Date: (partial) October 2011

    Gross square footage: 190,000 square feet

    Cost: $84 million to date

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  • New Research Reveals the Safety Hazards of Green Building

    By Katie Frasier

    This article originally appeared in ENR Mountain States.

    During the past several years, the green building trend has soared, with an increase in government incentives and availability of affordable supplies driving a huge growth of U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified buildings. With the LEED program ambitiously hoping to certify one million commercial buildings by 2020, it’s no surprise that this trend has come under some scrutiny. And while most great rewards often have a price, in this case it could be at the expense of the safety of construction workers on the job.  

    When Matthew Hallowell, assistant professor in the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, became aware of a study that found evidence of a nearly 50 percent increase of injury rate had occurred in LEED-certified projects over traditional construction, he found himself wondering about the cause. “That original work was the catalyst,” Hallowell says. “What we proposed to do was a comprehensive analysis where we looked credit by credit at the construction and design for this type of building and how that compared to what we traditionally do. LEED is growing very quickly, but prior to this, no one had paid much attention to the safety involved.”

    The team’s greatest challenge in conducting the study, titled “Identification of Safety Risks for High-Performance Sustainable Construction Projects,” was gathering empirical data rather than opinion-based anecdotes. To do this, Hallowell says the student researcher conducted site visits, observed construction processes, obtained and analyzed project documentation and reviewed job-hazard analyses and injury reports—in addition to conducting interviews at multiple organizational levels. With the information gathered, Hallowell and his team of researchers were able to identify 14 LEED credentials that may create heightened risks to construction workers.

    Most notable risks include a perceived 41% higher risk associated with installing sustainable roofing, a perceived 37% increase in risk from installing PV panels for on-site renewable energy, a perceived 36% additional risk of cuts, abrasions and lacerations from construction waste management and perceived 32% heightened risk of falls from installing skylights and atriums to meet the daylight and views credit.

    “I was very surprised when I read the conclusions,” says Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED Technical Development at USGBC. “LEED buildings are substantively different than non-LEED buildings and while there are risks in all construction, we did not expect green-building construction would have higher incidence of accidents. I don’t know that a lot of people would have held an opinion that was different than mine prior to this report.” The fact that the LEED rating system had yet to identify how to improve workers’ safety was something the USGBC had already been working closely with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for several months to evaluate.

    “We understood there were opportunities to learn from the safety community and help take their expertise to understand where we could create LEED credit language that inherently values the mitigation of risks to the constructors,” says Owens. “Still, it’s helpful and important that people are studying these issues and identifying opportunities to get better.” One question that arose from these studies was whether a building could truly be considered sustainable if the health and safety of its constructors were at risk. “Worker safety and health must be considered as an integral component of sustainable building design, construction and operation,” says Hallowell.

    He reasons that adding LEED credentials based on safety measures would be beneficial to maintaining worker safety. But Owens notes that rather than putting in place a credential that recognizes regulations contractors should already be complying with, LEED officials are looking to evolve the rating system as a whole. “Right now we’re trying to understand where the leverage points are within the rating system for opportunities that will allow us to make it better,” says Owens. “If we can become better informed about risks involved, we can improve the requirements of the rating systems and enhance safety. This study is an initial step in that direction.” Whether the findings of this study have surprised or validated opinions of individuals around the industry, Owens asserts that the information is useful for everyone to consider. “I really hope that people will be looking at this study and learning from it.

    That’s certainly what we’ll be doing.”

    Examples of Identifying and Reducing Risks

    In addition to identifying the increased risks in building for LEED certification, Hallowell and his team followed up with a study (due to publish in February) that found suggested mitigations for the added risks. It’s important to note that though these are listed under the LEED credential the construction methods meet, many of these risks are not unique to green building. Prevention efforts can also be applied to construction of traditional buildings that might incorporate one or more of these elements.

    LEED Credit: Brownfield Redevelopment

    Identified Risk: Extensive earthwork operations create a higher risk of falling or collapsing and hazards from the disposal of contaminants. Suggested Mitigation: Workers could use impermeable plastic liners in the beds of heavy equipment and thoroughly wash all equipment at the end of each workday to reduce contamination.  

    LEED Credit: Stormwater Quality Control

    Identified Risk: Workers have an increased risk of falling from increased excavation and trenching.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designing detention ponds with gradual slopes to avoid steep embankments may help reduce risk of falling. Contractors could plan concurrent tasks away from the excavation. LEED Credit: Heat Island Effect—Roof Identified Risk: White roofing options can be heavier and slipperier than traditional black roofing material, which increases the risk for overexertion and falls. The bright material can interrupt line of sight and increase the risk of slips and falls during installation.

    Suggested Mitigation: Tan or light gray membranes could be used to decrease reflectivity, or contractors could require tinted eyewear. Rubber walkpads could be provided for added traction, and contractors could purchase a greater number of smaller rolls to avoid overexertion from weight.

    LEED Credit: Innovative Wastewater Technologies

    Identified Risk: Risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals comes from construction a dual waste water system from installing additional piping.

    Suggested Mitigation: Contractors might require non-polyester gloves and respiratory protection and employ extensive quality-control measures.

    LEED Credit: Optimize Energy Performance

    Identified Risk: An increased risk of falling comes from a more ladder time installing added wires and controls, and double caulking.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designers could incorporate prefabricated panels of the exterior skin system, framing, structure and vapor barrier, and contractors could caulk from the building’s interior before installing finishing materials. LEED Credit:

    On-Site Renewable Energy

    Identified Risk: Falls and overexertion are more likely from installing heavy PV panels, usually on the roof.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designers could place PV panels closer to the ground or keep them as far from the edge of the roof as possible. Higher parapets and designed tie-off points may also lessen the risk of falling.



    LEED Credit: Enhanced Commissioning

    Identified Risk: The presence of commissioners distracts workers, increasing risk of falls and injuries.

    Suggested Mitigation: Commissioning agents could receive a site-specific orientation and be provided with personal protective equipment. Agents could be required to pass an OSHA safety course.

    LEED Credit: Construction Waste Management

    Identified Risk: “Dumpster diving” to retrieve mistakenly trashed recyclable materials increases risk of sprains and cuts.

    Suggested Mitigation: Suggested solutions include utilizing a third-party, local waste management company to sort the recyclable material offsite, using multiple, smaller waste receptacles around the construction site, or creating an industry-wide, color-coded labeling system to differentiate recycling from trash.

    LEED Credit: Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring

    Identified Risk: Time spent at heights to wire and mount the permanent monitoring system increases risk of falls.

    Suggested Mitigation: This risk may be eliminated by incorporating the monitoring equipment into the prefabrication process.

    LEED Credit: Construction IAQ Management Plan Identified Risk: A higher risk of falls and overexertion occurs from increased ladder time maintaining ductwork.

    Suggested Mitigation: Using different materials for the prefabricated “caps” on the ends of the duct, such as a universal magnetic cap, may make installation less awkward and therefore quicker and easier. Also suggested was the off-site fabrication of ductwork for longer sections to decrease time spent on the ladder.



    LEED Credit: Low-Emitting Materials—Adhesives/Sealants

    Identified Risk: Oftentimes, “rework” is needed due to the lower quality low-emitting adhesives and sealants used. The added time spent at heights, performing overhead work and exposure to construction dust creates a heightened risk for workers.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designers and contractors could work together to find available products that meet Rule #1168 while also standing up to expected temperatures and compatibility to other construction materials used. This would eliminate the need for added “rework.”

    LEED Credit: Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control

    Identified Risk: Workers have a heightened risk to fall hazards due to overhead work and working at heights during piping and ductwork installation.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designers could install HVAC systems under the floor so they’re easier to install and maintain.

    LEED Credit: Controllability of Systems—Lighting

    Identified Risk: Complex wiring associated with occupancy sensors and timing controls increase risk of electrical shock to workers. Additional time spent wiring these systems at heights increases the risk of falls.

    Suggested Mitigation: Some elements of the systems could potentially be prefabricated, decreasing time spent working with the wires onsite. Designers might locate sensors at reachable heights rather than on ceilings to eliminate time spent of ladders.

    LEED Credit: Daylight and Views: Daylight 75% of Spaces

    Identified Risk: Large skylights, windows or atriums increase time spent working near large, exposed openings at great heights.

    Suggested Mitigation: Designers could create a courtyard to meet the requirements or minimize the depth of the building as an alternative to atriums and skylights. If these elements are included, additional precautions could be taken, such as blocking off areas below overhead work, using equipment such as man lifts and scissor lifts when possible and using tie-offs and barriers near exposed openings.

    Katie Frasier is a freelance construction writer and social media specialist in charge of promoting jobsite safety. She has a background in magazine journalism and has previously written for a number of national publications. Reach her at  www.workboots.com or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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