a tall brick building with windows and a sign on it

Henson Intern Dispatch #2

By: Grace Cheng

Detailing is an art. How windows are sealed, connectors fastened, railings bent, or corners shaved are elements that make a good building not only stand out but last.

The first step in understanding details is to draw them. Through the process of drawing, one starts to understand the relationships between different materials, in what order construction occurs, how buildings get built, and the reasons why different parts of an assembly exist.

So far, I have drawn 15 windows, two stoops, two railings, one cornice, and one building elevation. I looked closely at every piece of information I have ­– photographs and sketches – and transcribed the materials into CAD drawings. Every detail matters, especially for historic buildings.

Besides learning through drawing, I also witnessed the importance of good detailing on-site at the Northern Dispensary, an iconic triangular building in Greenwich Village. It was built in 1831 as a health clinic for the poor and continued to deliver medical care until 1989. Although it has been vacant since 1999, the building remains in good shape thanks to its well-detailed and constructed wall and floor connections. There is evidence of water infiltration issues at one corner, but Eric and Marc quickly identified the cause of the problem ­­­– mortar settlement ­­­– simply by inspecting the exterior cracks, unleveled brick façade, sloped floors, and rusted pipes. They looked like doctors making a diagnosis, only this time the patient was the building.

One cannot talk about details and craftsmanship without bringing up Japanese carpentry. The entire office took a field trip to the Japan Society for the exhibition “When Practice Becomes Forms: Carpentry Tools from Japan.” We saw woodworking hand tools, models of complex joineries, hand-drawn blueprints, and videos of master carpenters and their apprentices at work. Their philosophy, spirit, and skills inspired us all. Maybe Scott will even revisit skills he learned in Kyoto and make another lapped gooseneck mortise.

Signing off!


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