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The world of adaptive reuse and historic preservation has found ways to successfully adapt and use historic buildings in modern neighborhoods. Social needs, such as for artist's housing, and needs for adaptive access, so all citizens can use the old buildings, have been successfully met. The old armories, however, have a number of challenges that are unique to their nature as urban fortresses.

The armories were developed initially as the home fort for state militias, with room for storage of ammunition and weapons, room for drilling a company or more of soldiers, storage and living quarters, administrative offices, storage and management of provisions--all of the space needed to house, feed, and equip a fighting unit of soldiers. So the armories are huge, both large in interior space, many an entire block long, and built with the sturdiness of a building designed to protect armament. This massive scale, both in size and in the thickness and weight of the walls and other structural supports, is a challenge when adapting the spaces to other uses.

The armories have mostly been in the ownership of the state, and as they were no longer needed for active military service, the state has ceded ownership over to the city. The city, having responsibility to provide some social services for their people, used the large spaces to provide homeless shelters and other social service needs. The grand scale of the buildings make them useful for a large-scale operation of this type, but neighborhoods have had difficulty when these needed but challenging uses impacted the quality of life in the neighborhood. In addition, there is some thought that the buildings, being designed as they were, should be prepped and available for citizens to use in the event of natural disasters. This potential use, while needed, is very expensive to maintain as space.

Some armories are being studied to evaluate their feasibility to be adapted into mixed income housing. Like many of these projects, competing interests of neighborhood quality of life versus the need for affordable housing makes the conversation challenging.
It will not be easy or cheap to adapt these massive military forts into uses for the modern day, with access for all and the systems that in modern life we need, such as HVAC, fire suppression systems, modern water catchment, sewage and plumbing. But their architecture is unique, and their scale and grandeur cannot be duplicated in modern times. To retain their uniqueness, we need to find suitable connections and interests between competing parties, and meet the challenge of adaptive reuse with innovative thinking.

For more information on adaptive reuse and historic building preservation, please contact us.

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What is Underpinning?

Underpinning is a process used to repair, strengthen, or increase the depth of an existing foundation by lowering the footing to allow it to rest on more supportive soil.

While oftentimes underpinning is associated with the remediation of deficient or failing foundations, it is also used in cases where the use of a building has changed, floors are being added to upper stories, or additional depth is desired in subsurface spaces, such as basements or cellars. In dense urban locations, such as New York City, underpinning is also a common practice during the construction of adjoining, adjacent, or nearby structures that require the removal or excavation of the soil supporting the neighboring properties.

The process of underpinning begins by removing or excavating the soil from beneath an existing foundation.

To avoid the risk of undermining the foundation, which may lead to structural failure, the removal of the soil is performed controlled stages, called ‘pins’, of limited length. The depth of the excavation is determined by a geotechnical engineer, who assesses the soil composition to identify the strata that is suitable to bear the weight of the building. The excavated soil is replaced with new material, typically concrete, which forms a new foundation beneath the existing one. Once one of the ‘pins’ is complete, and the concrete is cured, the process is repeated on the next section of the foundation until the entire length of the wall is reinforced.

There are multiple methods of underpinning including:

  • Mass Pour
  • Beam and Base
  • and Mini-Piled

The mass pour method is the most common due to its low cost and ability to resist heavy foundation loads. In this method, a solid, continuous concrete foundation is poured beneath the existing foundation is sections. While this method uses a great deal of material, it is the simplest method to engineer, does not require heavy machinery, and can allow for continuity of use during construction.

A more technically advanced method is the beam and base method, where a reinforced concrete beam is constructed below the entire foundation to replace the existing footing. In this method, the new beam transfers the load to a mass concrete base which spreads the load evenly across the soil. While more advanced in its design, the feasibility of this methods largely depends on the structural configuration of the building above the foundation.

Where ground conditions are variable or access around the area of the foundation is limited, the mini-piled method of underpinning may be used. In this method, ‘piles’ or deep vertical structural elements are driven into the ground in drilled holes deep enough to allow the piles to rest on stable soil. The piles typically extend at least 15’ below ground, but depending on the soil condition, are capable to depths of over 50’. While this method can overcome even the most adverse soil conditions, the engineering is more involved, and the process can prove to be quite expensive due to the technical expertise and specialty equipment required.

If you are planning on performing structural work on your existing property – either elective or as part of a remediation program – it is important to hire a firm with extensive experience working closely with structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, and the NYC Department of Buildings to mitigate the risk of negatively impacting your property and those adjacent to you.

If you have any questions about performing work on your existing building, do not hesitate to contact us.

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Riverside Church

Opening its doors in 1930, Riverside Church is an interdenominational church in Morningside Heights, situated within Columbia University’s campus.

Commissioned by John D. Rockefeller and designed by the firm of Allen, Pelton and Collens, the church’s nave is modeled after the 13th-Century Gothic Chartres Cathedral. Its bell tower goes far beyond the structural capabilities of traditional gothic cathedrals, as it is built on a steel frame the equivalent of a 22-story building, which makes Riverside Church the tallest church in the United States.

Scott Henson Architect became involved with Riverside Church in performing the visual inspection for the LL11 Cycle 8 façade safety report, which involved the use of industrial rope access to properly assess the conditions of the church’s bell tower and adjacent Martin Luther King Jr. Building. The repair program is currently underway.

In the meantime, we are also working with the property manager in weather-stripping the doors, as well as making the observation tower accessible for public use so that visitors may enjoy the views Riverside Church has to offer.

Built in 1892, 3537 Locust Walk is located near the intersections of Locust Walk and 36th Street in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania Campus. The site is an existing three-story semi-detached masonry building situated between two other historically significant masonry buildings; Sweeten Alumni Center (SAC) to the east, and Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity to the west. Scott Henson Architect partnered with Studio Joseph Architects to carry out the renovation and expansion of the existing building, which included rerouting the existing egress, upgrading the building’s systems, and renovating the historic building envelope.

As is the case with all contemporary additions to historic buildings, we at Scott Henson Architect were challenged with the dichotomy of new versus old. Our design provides a sense of cohesiveness that addresses the building’s existing conditions; such as a lack of accessibility, issues of code compliance, and operational inefficiencies. Our goal was to make sure that the contemporary building addition would contrast with the existing fabric in the most respectful way.

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Hunter's Point Passive House

One of six brick houses on a tree lined street built in 1881 and designed in the Neo-Grec style, the townhouse is two stories high in addition to the garden level. The house is characterized by rich red clay facebrick, stylized classical details, angular forms, and incised detailing formed by mechanical stone cutting. The top of the building is decorated with a pronounced wood and sheet metal cornice resting on four ornamental brackets.

The house will be designed to Passive House standards, making it a highly insulated and low energy-consuming building. This requires a complete gut-renovation of the existing interior in order to insulate and seal the building. While the front facade remains intact, the rear will see a two-story addition, a new rooftop addition set back from street view, including a partial excavation of the existing cellar.

Finding a balance between old and new elements has been the focus of this project. The house was divided into three apartments leaving a limited amount of original features. Whilst restoring it back to a single occupancy home we will be salvaging historical details where possible, replicating elsewhere with authentic materials and marrying these with modern details sympathetic to the old.

Historic landmarks are part of our cultural history and tell us a lot about the past through their characteristics. During the manufacturing boom in 19th century, building materials such as brick, hardwood, terracotta, and brownstone, became cheaper and more readily available. As a result, more and more people could afford to own a brick or stone home.

Today, we admire these historic masonry buildings because their characteristics have become less common over time and as technology evolves. The green movement has inspired owners of historic buildings to become more sustainable when it comes to maintenance.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) requires that historic buildings meet certain aesthetic criteria, while the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) requires that these buildings meet certain sustainable criteria. While LPC is more focused on the potential loss of a building’s character, the IGCC is more concerned with the reality that certain building materials have become less available and therefore unsustainable in today’s environment.

To beat this conflict, preservation architects must pay special attention to a building’s most meaningful characteristics. For example, historic windows are central in defining the character of historic buildings. Instead of replacing in-kind, architects might suggest retrofitting with insulated glass to boost their performance or incorporate weather stripping and storm windows that prevent heat loss and gain all year round.

Regarding energy, visible solar panels reduce the historical value of landmarks significantly. Preservationists prefer these panels be installed on flat roofs where visibility is minimal. Another sustainable solution currently in place is using renewable energy sources like off-site wind power and geothermal heating systems, which can be incorporated into the building system. These energy sources provide the much-needed efficiency and fulfill sustainability requirements that the IGCC, building owners and tenants desire.

For more information, please contact us.

What is worth preserving will typically vary from person to person. When something is called historic, it usually means that it is worth the time and effort that is needed to preserve it. The same goes for historic buildings. Building preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse can potentially revitalize a community and bring new opportunities.

Many older buildings have inherent value, as they are typically built with sturdy and high-quality materials that are hard to find today. A historic building that was once a central part of a neighborhood or a community, such as a church or school, can be preserved or re-adapted for new use. Restoring historic buildings offers us the opportunity to combine all the benefits of contemporary construction with attractive historic features, often of very high architectural and cultural value.

Aside from the aesthetic value that can be found in old buildings, there are various economic advantages to purchasing an older building. Many new business owners tend to prefer setting up shop in an older building because it is shown that buildings with historic value have an economic advantage over their modern counterparts.

A full-service architectural firm has the tools and resources you need to preserve a historic building in your neighborhood. Once a building is gone, the opportunities to preserve, restore and reuse are no longer available. Do not let a historic building in your neighborhood get demolished. Contact us today for more information on what steps you can take to preserve a historic building in your community.

No one wants their building's balcony to collapse. On the other hand, no one wants to spend an insane amount of money to repair or replace their building’s balcony unless it is absolutely necessary.

Balconies are generally made of reinforced concrete. It is always a good idea to regularly check for any rust stains, cracks, spalling and loose railings. These can indicate that you have a balcony issue that needs to be addressed. The best time to check for any of these warning signs is at the end of winter.

With proper yearly maintenance, your concrete balcony can last for decades. Unfortunately, many balconies that improperly maintained will only last for a few years before they need to be fully restored.

Before you make any decisions regarding your balcony, you should consult with an architect. The architect will be able to determine if the balcony has enough stability and if it is structurally sound. If you have noticed a problem that needs to be repaired or maintained, do not hesitate to contact us today for a consultation.

Many people care deeply about historic building preservation. Individuals who care a lot about history may care about the educational value of historic buildings, as older buildings help to give an area its own unique identity. Oftentimes, people who have a strong emotional connection to a local area often want to maintain the buildings and surrounding neighborhoods that they recognize.

Historic building preservation architects are trained in understanding the essential character of the building. They must empathize with the concerns of tenants, who are rightfully cautious about the process of historic building preservation.

The right firm will always place a great deal of emphasis on historic research, thus making it easier for everyone involved to make the building look and feel like something that is representative of its era. General contractors will do what architects specify; they will fix roofs, install new doors and windows, and reconstruct parapets. However, the actual materials and approaches that will be used in the process will be chosen by the architect as true to the time-period in question.

Firms can adopt modern materials and technologies while still respecting original intent and traditional approach to construction. In that way, their methods can be both modern and timeless, giving them all the tools that are available in the world of today while still allowing them to use the knowledge of the past.

Contact us to become more familiar with historic building preservation.

If you thought that "going green" might harm your bottom line, you can stop worrying. A 2012 study conducted at Notre Dame University which looked at over 500 PNC branches found that LEED certified PNC bank branches were performing better, profit-wise, than their non-LEED certified counterparts. In fact, customers were even depositing more money at the LEED certified branches!

The study never pinned down exactly why that was so -- whether customers were finding the LEED certified branches more inviting or whether their more comfortable employees were just being more productive. Either way, the LEED certified branches made more money, and it's a safe bet to say their employees appreciated their working environment, too! Either way, their findings support a growing consensus that you certainly don't have to "sacrifice" profitability to become more socially responsible and use more sustainable building materials.

In case you're not familiar with it, LEED is an acronym for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design", and to become LEED certified requires that your building must meet certain MPRs (that's short for Minimum Program Requirements.)

Another interesting aspect of achieving LEED certification is that you'll save money on your day-to-day operating costs, according to the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council). Expect to reduce cost on maintenance, energy, and water all while reducing waste. That's a win-win from every angle! And if you need more incentive, consider that because of these savings combined with increased efficiency, getting back the money you put in won’t take as long as you’d expect; According to the USGBC, green retrofit projects can expect to recoup their investment in as few as 7 years!

If you'd like to learn more about obtaining LEED certification and exactly what it entails, contact us at Scott Henson Architect today.