The latest news on New York architecture.


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The problems facing the architecture of a vibrant and ever-changing city like New York require inventive and reliable solutions. Scott Henson Architect is a full service architectural firm that understands each project requires its own unique approach. Their team is dedicated to addressing the issues their clients face while preserving the character of a building. Utilizing a wide knowledge base, established building methods, and advanced technology, Scott Henson Architect is an architectural firm suited to address the unique needs of both new and historic architecture.

Buildings in high-density, urban landscapes are both aesthetic and functional fixtures of their environment. Preservation and adaptive re-use, both of which Scott Henson Architect specializes in, are key strategies for creating sound solutions for problems facing the built environment. The firm is a strong proponent of renewable and sustainable building practices in their approach to meeting their client's needs and understands that each project is a substantial investment that requires great care and creativity to achieve its desired outcome. Every building has its own unique character deserving of a personalized and skilled approach.

Urban environments offer many opportunities to recognize innovative architecture, while adopting new and practical uses for existing structures. This dynamic is a rare charm that makes New York City so special. Bringing architecture to its full potential in a large metropolis demands an understanding of the full spectrum of possible problems, as well as the best solutions. To learn more contact us.

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Benefits Of Adaptive Reuse

In a way, adaptive reuse means changing a building’s function while keeping its form. Adaptive reuse has become popular in the ever-changing social and business climate of New York City. For example The Knickerbocker Telephone Company Building was built in 1894, and for many years was the home of a number of manufactures. After an extensive exterior and interior restoration completed in 2016, the 105,000 sf manufacturing building was converted into high end office space for JC Penny and a storefront showroom for Pirch.


Save Money

Demolition and new construction can certainly be costly. By simply making use of an existing structure precious funds and resources can be saved. There are even some incentives such as eligible tax credits covering up to 20% of the cost of restoration.

Save History
Locals are proud of their neighborhood’s architectural landscape. By updating historical buildings, or buildings that have meaning to the existing community, developers can preserve the neighborhood’s identity and charm.

Save the Environment
New buildings have higher embodied energies than adaptive reuse buildings. In 2001 new construction accounted for about 40% of annual energy and raw materials consumption, 25% of wood harvest, 16% of fresh water supplies, 44% of landfill, 45% of carbon dioxide production and up to half of the total greenhouse emissions from industrialized countries. Adaptive reuse retains a building’s original embodied energy by bypassing wasteful demolition and construction, adaptive reuse saves precious time, energy and materials.

To learn more about our services and how adaptive reuse could benefit your company, contact us.

In May, 1979, a piece of lintel became detached from the eighth floor of a Columbia University-owned apartment constructed in 1912 and fell, fatally striking a passing college student. To ensure that history would not repeat itself, New York City passed Local Law 10 the following year . The law stated that the street-facing facades and side walls of every building more than six stories would be required to be inspected every five years. If the inspection revealed any defects or deficiencies, reconstruction and an additional inspection would be required.

Local Law 11

Eight years later Local Law 11 was introduced to address emerging problems and potential issues, expanding the requirements of Local Law 10 to include the following:

  • Expanded the façade inspection to ALL façades and appurtenances; except walls 12” or fewer inches from an adjacent building
  • Required scaffolding at each inspection
  • Required a written report on any deterioration and its causes
  • Required a timetable for any repairs, and staggered these dates throughout the year
  • Established a building classification system—“safe”, “unsafe”, or “safe with a repair and maintenance program (SWARMP)”—and eliminated “precautionary”

Local Law 11 also requires that any SWARMP-designated buildings which are not fixed in a timely manner receive an adjusted designation of “unsafe.” Any required repairs must be completed within 30 days of the initial report, to then be followed by another inspection and report filing. The Department of Buildings (DOB) charges $265 for the initial report and an additional $100 for amended and subsequent reports.

The Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP)

The Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) oversees adherence to Local Law 11. Among the FISP requirements are:

  • Technical Report (form TR6)
  • Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) and owner contact information
  • Current and clear photographs and/or sketches of unsafe conditions
  • Repair timeframe
  • Scaffold drop and location
  • Any report findings that are inconsistent with photographs

Failure to file results in a $1,000 fine per year plus $250 per month for every month the report is overdue.

Today, over 12,500 New York City buildings are subject to Local Law 11.

For more information about Local Law 11 and/or obtaining a qualified exterior wall inspector, please contact us.

The Knickerbocker Telephone Company Building

Originally constructed in 1894 by architect and builder John T. Williams, the “Knickerbocker Telephone Co. Building” is located at 200 Lafayette Street in New York City’s SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District Extension, an area that gained prominence in the late-nineteenth century as one of the city’s prime manufacturing districts. The buildings of this district display a variety of architectural styles including Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque, and Revival styles, which were adapted to meet the needs of American commercial interests. The Knickerbocker Telephone Co. Building is designed in the Renaissance Revival-style, characterized by its rusticated base, multi-story brick piers topped by molded capitals, elaborate cartouches, and pressed-metal cornices decorated with dentils and scrolled brackets.

Over the years, the building was occupied by a variety of tenants, including the National Wall Paper Co. (1896); the Knickerbocker Telephone Co. (1900); the Fairbanks Scales Co. (1902-20); the Woodcrafts Equipment Co. (1932); Toepfer-Anderson Promotions Service, direct mail service (1951); the Miller-Charles Co., automatic screw machines (1962); LCY Sportswear, clothing manufacturers (1977); Laura Whitcomb, clothing boutique (1996); and the North Fork Bank, branch (2006).

Acknowledging its historic significance, General Growth Properties retained Scott Henson Architect and Stephen B Jacobs Group in 2012 for an exterior and interior restoration that would address decades of deterioration that had left the building in a critical state of disrepair. With a cost of $36 million, the meticulous restoration included the repair and/or replacement of nearly all of the building’s original historic features, including the sheet metal cornice, brownstone water tables, sills and lintels; cast-iron bands and storefront bays; and wrought iron fire escapes. Much of the top floor of the Lafayette Street façade was reconstructed along with the entire upper half of the sheet metal cornice and decorative brackets, which were replaced to match the original. Due to the extensive deterioration of the brownstone, substantial sections of the water tables had to be completely rebuilt and many of the brownstone lintels and sills had to be cut back and replaced. All the cast iron and wrought iron elements of the facades were stripped, patched or recast and painted to its original historic color.

The 105,000 sf manufacturing building has been converted into high end office space for the clothing distributor, J.C. Penney, and a storefront showroom for the appliance distributor, Pirch. The architects took full advantage of the original building materials and details, which are featured in the renovation. All seven floors have high ceilings and loft-like spaces where great care was taken to restore, preserve, and expose the materials at hand, revealing historic features and reducing material needs. Neglected and decaying interiors were brought back to life by exposing and restoring the brick walls, cast iron columns and heavy timber beams, while contrasting new concrete and glass maintain a modern, airy feel. The immense courtyard skylight was replaced, flooding the first floor with warm, natural light and nearly eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day.

The importance of the neighborhood is rooted in deep social, cultural, and economic history within the infrastructure of New York City whose commercial architecture is one of the most well documented and geographically compact in the country. The vast cast iron construction of the area is a testament to the architectural and engineering feats of 19th century commercial construction. The restoration project, completed by partners General Growth Properties, Scott Henson Architect, SBJ Group, and Higgins Quasebarth and Partners, is more than just a revitalization of the original historic fabric; it is a celebration and recognition of the significant cultural impact that this building had in the history of making, manufacturing, and creating in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.

Sustainable Design Intent

The preservation and re-use of The Knickerbocker Telephone Co. Building is critical to the sustainable stewardship of our environmental resources. Buildings represent an incredibly high embodied energy, that is, the energy and resources expended to build them as well as what would be required to replace them. The preservation and adaptive re-use of this historic structure is an example of the most beneficial sustainable practice that can be offered in building construction.

From the exterior to the interior of the building, the design intent was to keep and restore as much of the existing as possible. The interior open floor layout takes full advantage of the existing column spacing as well as the natural light from the large windows on both Lafayette Street and Broome Street. New glass walls were installed to create conference rooms and offices where required, without diminishing the transparency and airiness of the space. High efficiency mechanical equipment was placed in the least desirable locations of the floors. Given its dense urban setting, the building is very well connected within its community, with most employees commuting by foot, bicycle, or subway, or combinations of all three. LEED Certification is in progress.

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Reading a Landscape: Freshkills Park

By Marissa Paino, Draftperson, SHA

Freshkills Landfill was the reason my friends from Brooklyn made fun of me. It was Staten Island’s defining trait, visible from space, taller than the Statue of Liberty and infested with seagulls. At one time Staten Island had the unfortunate distinction of being home to the world's largest landfill. No one on the island could escape the smell or the jibes that followed when someone found out you called Staten Island home. However the landfill’s slime covered slopes were not always a part of the borough’s ecology, and a lot has changed since my childhood.

On an absolutely freezing day last February, I set off to view an infamous landscape: The Freshkills Landfill. Armed with my sketchbook and unfortunately a dead cell phone, I arrived at the newly christened “Freshkills Park”. I parked, stepped out of my car and was surprised that the smell that once assaulted my nostrils throughout my childhood home was nowhere to be smelled. The air was crisp, clean and definitely cold. Expecting to find large mountains of trash, I instead found large mountains of fresh dirt housing hundreds of little saplings waiting for spring. Amongst the trees were tiny birds, pecking in the snow-blanketed dirt for a quick meal before flying off to find some shelter from the cold. I even saw deer -I couldn't believe my eyes- white-tailed deer happily stepping around a buried trash heap as if the landscape had always been this way.

I’ve seen enough of natural areas of Staten Island to know something was amiss; there should’ve been low lying topography and marshy weeds there. There should be creeks frozen by winter crossed over by fallen trees melting back into the earth. Man’s touch was so obvious from where I stood- the fence, the dirt heaps, the perfectly placed trees- where was nature? Standing there, looking at that man-made forested hill beyond a chain-link fence, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have seen before nature was replaced by trash to only be replaced by a man-made nature. What made people turn so much of this island into a trash pile?

Long before the landfill was opened in 1948, Freshkills was a landscape known for its salt marshland, tidal creeks and an abundance of plant-life growing out of sand and silt topsoil. The original topography was low-lying and was home to Lenape Native Americans who called the site Aquehonga Manacknong, or “haunted woods.” During the 1600’s, Fresh Kill’s original inhabitants established horticulture while they continued to hunt, gather and harvest shellfish from the once abundant land.

Though many attempts to colonize what was then called “Staten Eylandt” failed, Staten Island eventually became a stop on a stage coach route between Philadelphia and New York City. As a result, English settlement of the island began and in 1670 the Lenape surrendered their claim on the land. The Isle of Meadows, located at the mouth of the Freshkills Estuary, became Richmond County and land was divided into estates and farm shares. Those that lived on the site were self-sufficient farmers and fishermen living in small settlements. Oystering and farming became the Island’s main industry and salt hay, sold for cattle bedding and packing material, became its cash crop. The navigable creeks of the landscape encouraged trade and eventually would aid in the transportation of manufactured goods. This farming culture would last until rapid development pushed for land to be used for more housing and industrialization.

Farmland would fall away to yield factories and a history of waste disposal would soon begin. A number of brick factories harvesting local clay popped up and a waste disposal facility, used mostly for animal byproducts, was established. The digging of clay deposits created new ditches in meadows which would eventually provide the perfect place for dumping the city’s trash. Modernization continued to bloom with the creation of the Staten Island Railroad, which made travel of goods and people quicker and more efficient. While growth slowed during the Civil War, soon after, company towns were established to support the growth of factories in the area. Fire bricks, gas retorts, and drainpipes made from the local clay were some of Staten Island’s main exports.

In the 1800’s the population blossomed with the improvement of utilities, railways, ferries, and bridges. At this time, the shore was washed with oyster shells and there were forests of oak and chestnut trees, and rolling salt marshes. Naturalists explored the rolling Freshkills hills, painted its salt marshes in their landscapes, and rowed small boats in its creeks. It was a Naturalist’s dream landscape, seemingly untouched by human hands. However when Robert Moses came to town with a plan to change Freshkills, it would never be the same. He wanted to create new housing and parks, and his first step was to fill in the marshes with trash. He filled in ponds, displaced lakes, and eventually the marshes gave way to four massive piles of garbage, but Moses’s houses and parks were never built. Animals were displaced and native plants were killed for seemingly nothing, replaced by feral dog packs, flocks of seagulls and rats.

Instead of parks and houses, a new landscape of trash mountains was created. New government regulations forced other landfills in the area to close and eventually the once beautiful Freshkills became the only place for New York City’s trash. Barges and trucks brought almost 29,000 tons of garbage to Freshkills each day. The tallest mound rose about 200 feet above sea level, turning the once low-lying marshes into foul smelling mountains towering over Staten Island. The trash mix excreted gas and lactate, which posed a threat to the environment and those living around the trash heap. The noxious environment of Freshkills developed its own ecology of trash and slime coexisting with forests, tidal and freshwater wetlands.

Thankfully the landfill was closed for good in 2003 when Mayor Bloomberg selected a design proposal from Field Operations to turn the trash piles into the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. The thirty-year plan is well underway to clean up the toxic garbage and replace it with bike trails, walking paths, sports fields, a picnic lawn, a farm, a kayak launch, a bird watching tower, an earthwork monument and the city’s largest solar energy facility. Now that summer is fully underway, the newly planted saplings, freshly laid paths and hilltop picnic areas are slowly becoming a park. The area, which was largely ignored by the city for years is being rediscovered, both by its residents and its wildlife population. Since the winter, the site has attracted nearly a dozen animal species and a variety of at-risk bird species that are considered rare in the city. As bird watchers, naturalists, and weekenders flock Freshkills, the 2,200 acres that Staten Islanders once considered a scar on the landscape is now healing, restoring a sense a pride to the area.

With the plans in place to heal hundreds of years of damage, there is hope for Freshkills. There is proof of this in the return of wildlife including the deer, foxes, turtles, egrets, rabbits, coyotes, owls and even native bald eagles. A new nature for Freshkills is in the works, and in a few decades what was once a Wall E-esque landscape, will be wiped clean and instead hold a new image of nature for generations to come.

If you’d like to see Freshkills with your own eyes, Discovery Day will take place on Sunday, September 18th 2016 from 11:00 AM- 4:00 PM.

Image ©Leonel Lima Ponce for Inhabitat

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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.

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