The latest news on New York architecture.

For the historic building enthusiast, New York City offers timeless architecture and a sense of nostalgia. The preservation of these historical buildings provides a small glimpse of what New York City looked like in the early 20th century.

Starting in 1939, a group of photographers spread themselves throughout all five boroughs to undertake a project organized by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the New York City Department of Taxation. The original goal was to utilize these photos to appraise property value. These organizations had no idea just how valuable these photos would become in development today.

Until recently, the ability to view these 1940s tax photos was an expensive and lengthy process.  In order to remedy this issue, the New York City Department of Records & Information Services has released a compilation of historic photos of the city to the public, available for online use. There are now 720,000 digitized images of every existing building in New York City between 1939 and 1941 for any user to view online. To peruse the photo gallery, click here.

While these photos give us a snapshot of what city life looked like back in the day, they prove most useful in preserving historic architectural details. Even in the subsequent tax photos taken in the 1980s, we start to see alterations in the building fabric as many historic details are removed and replaced with cheaper interventions. Before completing any renovation, we must consider the historic details that make a building special.

Scott Henson Architect prides itself in the preservation of historic New York City buildings. Our design aesthetic focuses on innovation combined with the preservation of historic detail and the SHA team values our clients’ goals and visions. Please set up a consultation and contact us today.

Published in Miscellaneous

Preservation and renovation of interior spaces in historic buildings involves a careful and detailed structural assessment of the materials, environment, and applied stresses to ensure that the existing walls, floors, and other load bearing structures are structurally safe. This structural assessment can involve a visual inspection to assess the structural integrity of load bearing walls and joints. Structure can also be analyzed in greater detail through impact-echo vibration testing, which creates a computer-generated model of material strength.

Some damage to an interior is visible, such as water damage, cracked bricks, and missing mortar. However, some interior elements, such as columns, concrete flooring and welded steel structural elements, may need testing to ensure that the structure of the material is holding up, without fractures or other signs of impending failure.

With historic buildings, patching or attempting to strengthen a failing structural area can accelerate damage or failure. Detailed and complete structural assessments are a first step, with priorities for repair and renovation detailed.

When bringing a historic building into modern use, safety and access issues are as important as maintaining historic integrity in materials and use. Fire safety and access for those with mobility challenges are mandated in any public use building and may require changes to the interior space utilization.

In addition, a change in the planned use of the building requires assessments of how people will navigate the building. Emergency egress and bathrooms, for instance, are built based on the expected number of people using the building. Areas of potential bottle-neck during an emergency evacuation can be modeled by computer programs or viewed with a visual inspection. Modern systems, such as HVAC and plumbing, might also require changes in the interior structural elements, as these systems will need to be accessed for maintenance and repair.

The structural assessment will include areas such as materials safety, structural integrity, and immediate safety issues. A planned renovation will detail the necessary adaptive changes to an interior, specifically safety, access, and the buildings mechanical system. After these critical points are evaluated and planned for, elements of the interior renovation will be planned in order to maintain as many historic features as possible.

Can we answer your questions about historic interior renovation? Please contact us for more information.

Published in Restoration

The NYC Department of Buildings has issued guidelines for facade safety and the requirements for filing inspection reports. The department is responsible for issues of public safety where building facades and appurtenances can pose a risk to the public. The department mandates a five-year cycle of exterior inspections for building owners. 

Owners of buildings greater than six stories are required to hire a private qualified exterior wall inspector (QEWI) every five years, according to a rotating yearly scale based on building number. This private inspector verifies that no element of the facade has deteriorated or become unsafe, and has no risk of detaching, falling, and becoming dangerous to residents or the public on the streets below. Even strong materials such as brick, masonry, and tile can become degraded or damaged after exposure to pollutants and the weather, and some issues, such as water incursions into the facade, are not easily visible to the naked eye.

QEWI inspectors are required to submit either a Safe, Safe with Repair and Maintenance, or Unsafe report. If the report meets reporting requirements, it is accepted by the department and further action is scheduled. Any unsafe report has a scheduled DOB inspector visit the site and make recommendations for the building owner. When repairs are made, an amended report is filed, and another DOB inspector is scheduled.

In addition, a DOB inspector schedules an inspection visit when a facade report is not filed when due or a shed removal request is made. It is a common fine for building owners to not file the facade report on time for their building, and this oversight comes with significant monetary fines which are ongoing until the situation is corrected. There are also significant fines associated with unsafe facades which are not repaired and re-inspected as required.

Violations written by the Department of Buildings for facade safety violations are serious, but also suggest that the building owner is at risk for liability issues if a member of the public is injured when the owner is not in compliance with requirements. Knowing when the building is due for an inspection, filing reports in a timely manner, and meeting various requirements for facade safety is a complex process that is critical for building owners. 

Can we assist in a facade issue? Please contact us for more information, or to make an appointment.

Published in Miscellaneous