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The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Challenges in Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings: The Armories of NYC

    Challenges in Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings: The Armories of NYC

    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 You Should Know about the Facade Inspection Safety Program

    What You Should Know about the Facade Inspection Safety Program

    The Facade Inspection Safety Program (FISP), previously known as Local Law 11, requires owners of buildings six stories and up to schedule an inspection of the exterior walls and appurtenances by a New York State licensed architect or engineer every five years. Depending on the building’s level of deterioration, a building owner may be required to coordinate a second inspection so that the architect or engineer may verify the progress of corrective measures.

    Now that you understand what FISP is, perhaps you’re wondering why it exists. Unfortunately, most building code is written because of an unfortunate event. In the case of FISP, this is also true. In 1980, a pedestrian was killed when a piece of masonry fell from the facade of a building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In order to prevent similar tragedies from occurring, New York City Council amended the building code to provide for periodic inspections of street facades and appurtenances. Later, in 1997 and 1998, there were several more exterior wall failures in New York City. As a result, the city passed New York City Local Law 11 of 1998, which required inspections and maintenance of the façades of buildings greater than six stories in height.

    Owners of such buildings are required to have a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer, known as a “qualified exterior wall inspector,” to perform a visual and close-up inspection of the entire building envelope, including side and rear facing walls. This inspection also includes the examination fire escapes, railings, parapets and roof. Appurtenances such as air conditioners, canopies, satellite dishes, and antennae are also subject to inspection.

    After the inspection, the qualified exterior wall inspector will prepare the drawings and file with the Department of Buildings (DOB). Buildings may be classified as safe, safe with a repair and maintenance program (SWARMP), or unsafe. A building classified as SWARMP, must be repaired in a timely fashion, while an unsafe building is dangerous and requires immediate attention.

    Unsafe conditions may include items such as loose bricks, cracked windows, leaning walls, or improperly secured air conditioners, as well as other conditions which may be dangerous to pedestrians below. Unsafe conditions must be dealt with immediately, within a 30-day period, and an amended report must be filed confirming the repairs. Extensions of up to 90 days may be granted if necessary.

    Regular facade inspections help identify potential problems such as water infiltration and heat loss for tenants and keeps people safe on the street below. For more information, please contact uscontact us.

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