Michael Patino, RA, Joins Vertical Access

Michael Patino, RA, has joined Vertical Access. He brings over ten years experience working in architecture offices in New York, Atlanta and Madrid and currently serves as the chairman of the Architecture and Historical Review Board of Dobbs Ferry, NY. Michael earned his Master of Architecture from the City College of New York and his BA from Bard College. A Registered Architect and SPRAT Level I certified rope access technician, Michael will be based in our New York City office.

Can you identify this building? – Series No. 11

Test your knowledge of historic and iconic buildings in the U.S. (and beyond!) in this series of “guess the building” blog posts.

Series No. 11:

This church boasts a wealth of sculptural ornament, including dozens of life-sized saints and historical figures, as well as smaller details such as these depictions of tradespeople. The shield is a clue to its location. Where is it?




344-109 Stone_Note Photo-sculpture 2013-1

Answer: St. Thomas Church, New York, NY.  Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson won a competition for the design of the church in 1906, and it was constructed between 1911 and 1913. The church was Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue’s final collaboration before Goodhue established his own practice. The principal facade on Fifth Avenue has an elaborately ornamented entrance with a spectacular rose window and sculptural grouping in the parapet above.


Don’t miss another architectural challenge: subscribe to our blog by signing up with your email address in the sidebar. Click here to see all of the posts in this series.

Photos by Vertical Access.

14th Annual Bard Birthday Breakfast to Honor Two Who Embody the Preservation and Curation of Archives

Join Kent Diebolt and Berta de Miguel at the 14th Annual Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit on December 19th, presented by the New York Preservation Archive Project (NYPAP).

This year NYPAP is honoring two awardees who embody the preservation and curation of archives at the 2017 Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit (http://www.nypap.org/2017-bard-birthday-breakfast-benefit/). On December 19th the Archive Project will present a 2017 Preservation Award to Janet S. Parks for 36 years of archival stewardship as Curator of Drawings & Archives at Avery Library. A second award will honor the devotion to archival stewardship displayed by the Durst Family. The benefit will also feature a presentation by Kate Ascher on the use of archives in her writings, which include the seminal The Works: Anatomy of a City.

Since its creation two years ago, the Archive Project’s Preservation Award has honored outstanding contributions to the documentation, preservation, and celebration of the history of preservation in New York City. This year the organization turns its attention to those New Yorkers who exemplify archival stewardship through their work in preserving the history of preservation and New York City’s architectural and archaeological past. Archives hold our city’s stories, and without these honorees this history would be lost, moldering in dumpsters or forgotten to the public. At this year’s Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit, join in celebrating the work of our 2017 honorees, whose efforts have allowed New Yorkers to tell the built history of our city in perpetuity.

Award presentations and introductions will be made by author and architect Robert A.M. Stern, former NYC Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and J.M. Kaplan Fund Executive Director Amy Freitag.

More information is below and on the event webpage: http://www.nypap.org/2017-bard-birthday-breakfast-benefit/

* * *

When members of the architecture and preservation fields think of archival stewardship, they think of Janet Parks. Before her retirement in June 2017, Parks held the role of Curator of Drawings & Archives at Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library for 36 years. Under her curatorial direction, the department made more than 650 acquisitions, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archive (co-owned with the Museum of Modern Art). She has also curated exhibitions on such topics as Ely Jacques Kahn, Max Abramovitz, and the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company. She has lectured and published on Avery’s materials and has worked with researchers from around the world.

About 95 percent of Avery Library’s more than two million archival items were acquired under Parks’s tenure, up from 50,000 items when she began. These include architectural drawings and archival photographs, correspondence, documents, and, increasingly, collections with a digital component. An architectural archive is subject to many internal and external factors, from the care the architect gave to the material, to the time between the archive’s creation and its acquisition, and the number of players involved. Working with architects, firms, and family donors, Parks selected collections for Avery that shape an archive with research and preservation impact.

Her most memorable and challenging acquisition feat was moving the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archive 3,000 miles from Arizona to New York. Between 2013 and 2016 Parks spent a total of six weeks in Arizona packing the archive, which filled the equivalent of six tractor trailers. Soon after the collection made it to Avery, inquiries from around the world began to pour in, connecting the Library staff to, in Parks’s words, “an immediate fan club that wants to write to you every day.” In 2017 she was awarded a Wright Spirit Award by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy for her role in moving the collection to Columbia. She was also a guest curator of Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that ran through October 2017.

Avery Library’s archives reflect New York City’s rich architectural history, going beyond the canon of practicing architects to include the work of renderers, mosaicists, model makers, photographers, and preservationists. During her tenure, Parks worked with museum curators on loans of 5,000 objects to more than 270 architectural exhibitions, and she directed researchers to materials that were the archival foundation of many publications. Particularly satisfying was connecting building owners to the original drawings in the Avery collections, notably Ely Jacques Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas W. Lamb, and most recently the Philip Johnson drawings for the Schlumberger headquarters in Connecticut.

Summarizing such a vast collection is impossible, but two items are memorable for the role that these archival objects play in capturing the past. One of Parks’s favorite objects is a series of photographs of cast-iron buildings in SoHo, taken by Giorgio Cavaglieri and his office in 1968. Commissioned by Robert Moses and the Lower Manhattan Expressway Project with the purpose of demolishing the buildings, this survey actually served to help convince the public that this area should be designated as an historic district to block the destructive effects of the expressway.

Another favorite are the drawings of Thomas W. Lamb, a leading early 20th-century theater architect, which were retrieved from a fifth-floor dressing room at the Lyric Theater on West 42ndStreet. Numbering more than 20,000 drawings, the collection contained more than just the documentary evidence of a bygone era of New York City history. Parks remembers prying open a tightly-sealed metal tube that held a set of drawings: “The smell of cologne and pipe tobacco wafted out. It had been trapped inside. We all stood around it and we were back in the 1920s.”

Throughout the years the archive’s mission has been to develop a complete cross section of the world of architecture and a comprehensive record of the architectural process, one which would have, in the words of Talbot Hamlin, Avery Librarian in the 1930s-40s, “a permanence that actual buildings do not always achieve.” As Parks observed, “That is so true in any place, but in New York especially.”

* * *

This year’s second 2017 Preservation Award will be awarded to the Durst Family, which has also displayed a particular devotion to archival stewardship. In 2011 the Dursts, one of New York City’s most respected real estate families, donated Seymour Durst’s Old York Library Collection to Avery Library. This collection comprises 40,000 objects that were collected by Mr. Durst throughout his lifetime including historic photographs, maps, pamphlets, postcards, books, and New York City memorabilia from the 18th century to the 1980s, as well as architectural documentation, including renderings, plans, and photographs from the Durst Organization Archives. “The Old York’s collection was fueled by my father’s passion for New York City, especially its history, buildings, and architecture,” said Wendy Durst Kreeger, President of the Old York Foundation. Along with this gift to Avery Library, the Durst Organization also announced an unprecedented $4 million gift to catalog and house the collection, create a digital Old York library to ensure broad access to the materials, and create innovative new cross-disciplinary programming at Columbia University.

The Dursts also facilitated the creation, in 2016, of the NYC Archaeological Repository at the Nan A. Rothschild Research Center. The Repository is a climate-controlled space, donated by the Durst Organization, that contains over a million archaeological artifacts collected by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from over 31 sites in all five boroughs. Prior to the creation of the repository, archaeological collections were stored at 14 sites throughout New York City, some of which were not ideal for artifact preservation. The Durst Organization also helped support an accompanying website that provides unprecedented public access to these collections.

The Repository was named for Dr. Nan A. Rothschild, a Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Barnard College, a member of the faculty of Columbia University, and a cousin of Helena Durst, the Chief Administrative Officer of the Durst Organization. The name honors Dr. Rothschild’s contributions to the archaeology field; she has directed several seminal New York City archaeological excavations, including the Stadt Huys excavation, the first major excavation in New York City. “This project marries two of the passions of our family: the preservation of our City’s heritage and history and our contribution to the built environment,” said Helena Durst. My cousin, Nan Rothschild, has made her life’s work the archaeology of New York and we are thrilled she is being honored with the naming of this center. My grandfather, Seymour Durst, while a developer by trade, was a passionate collector and archiver of New York history and ephemera and he assembled this lot and oversaw the construction of this building. He would be very pleased that this center is opening here.”

* * *

The Archive Project is thrilled to continue the archival theme of the 2017 Bard Birthday Breakfast Benefit with a special lecture by Kate Ascher on the archival research done for her writings, the most widely-known of which is The Works: Anatomy of a City. Ascher is a Principal and leads the United States practice of Happold Consulting, the urban development subsidiary of the British engineering firm Buro Happold. Prior to joining Happold, Kate held positions at Vornado Realty Trust and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. She is also a faculty member at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, where she serves as the Milstein Professor of Urban Development and teaches courses in the Real Estate Development program. Her areas of expertise include waterfront planning and development, privatization and municipal services, and infrastructure planning—including transportation, parks, and energy.

In addition to her professional experience, Kate has published a number of books about cities, including The Politics of PrivatizationThe Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, and The Works: Anatomy of a City, which explores the invisible infrastructure that supports life in New York City. She is currently acting as editor, alongside Tim Mellins, for New York Rising, which tells the story of the evolution of New York City’s built environment through items from Seymour Durst’s Old York Library Collection. Each chapter features contributions by well-known academics who have selected items from the collection to comment on events or trends particular to the period from which the item dates.

Our honorees and speaker are therefore inextricably linked through archives, making this year’s benefit a celebration of the archival bonds that tie our fields together. Join us on December 19that The Yale Club of New York City to learn from esteemed author Kate Ascher and honor the archival work of 2017 Preservation Awardees Janet Parks and the Durst Family!



Celebrating the Life and Work of Guastavino at Recent Cultural Screenings, Discussions


I have dedicated a major portion of my career to studying the life and work of Rafael Guastavino. Recently I was honored to play a part of two screenings of El Architecto De Nueva York, the award-winning documentary in which I appeared with Kent Diebolt and John Ochsendorf as well as our Spanish colleagues Camilla Miletto, Arturo Zaragosa and Fernando Vegas. In the film we guided viewers through iconic examples of his work in New York City such as Grand Central Terminal, the Guastavino Oyster Bar, Ellis Island and more.  This documentary won a Gold Dolphin at the 2016 Cannes Festival and a New York Festival World’s Best TV & Films section Biographies. The director was Eva Vizcarra.

On October 23, I moderated a round table following the documentary screening at the Instituto Cervantes NYC (http://nyork.cervantes.es/FichasCultura/Ficha116680_27_1.htm)

The participants of the round table were:

  • Jaume Soler, an acoustician with more than 20 years of experience designing theaters and concert halls around the world. He studied telecommunications engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and he is currently an associate principal at the engineering firm Arup. Jaume’s first contact with the work of Rafael Guastavino was in a small town near Barcelona, while studying the acoustics of La Massa theatre in Vilassar de Dalt about 18 years ago. However, it was not until he moved to New York, in 2001, that he grasped the breadth and impact of Guastavino’s work. Jaume has worked and conducted acoustical surveys of several Guastavino projects since then.
  • Miguel Quismondo received his degree in architecture from the Polytechnic School in Madrid and developed his career in the United Sates. Over the past decade Miguel has worked for Olnick Spanu on the design, construction and management of Casa Mia, the Olnick Spanu Art Program, and the Magazzino Italian Art. He holds Master’s degrees in Real Estate Development from Columbia University and Construction Management from NYU. Miguel’s work has been issued in la Biennale di Venezia, Architectural Record, A+U, Casabella, ABC, El País and El Mundo among other publications.

We discussed the following topics:

  1. We usually talk about Guastavino as an individual but in fact there were two: Rafael Guastavino Moreno & Rafael Guastavino Expósito (RGM and RGE). Who were these two men and what is a Guastavino vault? Referred to as “Palaces for the People”, Guastavino vaults involve a technique known as timbrel vaulting: utilizing layers of interlocking small, flat tiles, plaster, and mortar.  This technique has been described as inexpensive, fireproof, light, fast to build, having almost infinite aesthetic possibilities, and was installed by the Guastavinos in more than 1000 buildings in 11 countries.
  1. Keys of their success: both Guastavinos used in their own way traditional architecture as an inspiration for innovation. One example is the technical progress that RGE introduced in acoustics along with Wallace Clement Sabine. Jaume explained to the group why RGE’s contribution was so important in this field:
  • The two materials used in Guastavino vaults (Rundorf and Akustolit) significantly impacted fields such as theatric and other performing arts.
  • “Whispering gallery” sound effects were not designed intentionally but are an artifact of architectural design.
  1. William Jordy was the first to include the Guastavinos in a History of Architecture publication in 1972. This is unfair for two men that are considered two of the most important architects/constructors. Considering their amazing contribution in different fields they are not as known as they should be. Surprisingly, we still don’t study the Guastavinos and their innovations in architectural and engineering academic curricula.
  1. RGM often compared music to architecture, saying that both need not only the creator or the artist but equal importantly the craftmanship of the hands of who is actually building or playing the music. That kind of craftsmanship today would be difficult and expensive.
  1. Each one of us chose a favorite Guastavino building and explained the election. Mine was the demolished Penn Station. Based on my research and historic photos, that building is one of my favorite for many reasons. As the architect, educator and critic Vincent Scully compared the demolished Penn Station to the current one:

One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat. 

Then on November 9, I introduced the screening at the Observatorio del Instituto Cervantes en Harvard University (Link to the event: https://college.harvard.edu/documentary-screening-and-discussion-rafael-guastavino-el-arquitecto-de-nueva-york)

I let the audience know that they were about to see the only documentary ever filmed about the Guastavinos, two Spanish architects/constructors responsible for designing and building iconic spaces in more than 1000 buildings in the world. Of these, there are around 156 Guastavino buildings in Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I also read the words of Professor George Collins, from Columbia University, who rescued the incomplete but extensive archives of the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company from destruction:


After the screening I answered some questions and analyzed the following topics:

  1. Keys for their success:
    • RGM registered the patent of what he called “cohesive construction” as a fireproof system. The timbrel vault was inspired in the traditional Spanish construction system of the bóveda tabicada o catalana. He used traditional architecture as an inspiration for innovation.In total, the Guastavino’s held 24 US Patents.
    • Inexpensive: no form, fast to build. The main dome of Saint John the Divine (the largest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere) was built in just 3 months.
    • Almost infinite aesthetic possibilities. Fusion of industry, art and craft. They were beautiful.
  1. Legacy, anonymity, demolitions:
    • Collins registered a total of 1113 structures
    • USA: 1066 / Canada: 21 / Cuba, Holland, India, Mexico, Panama, Spain, Trinidad, UK: 26.  In New York City: 363; in Massachusetts : 156.
    • Their peak year of production was 1909 with 39 buildings in construction.
    • In Manhattan approximately 12% have been completely demolished. During the early 1960’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s consulting engineers did not fully understand the structural behavior of the Guastavino vaults in wings E and H, so they decided to demolish them and replace them with a steel beam girder system.
  1. Decline of Guastavino Vaulting
    • New aesthetic styles started to reject curvilinear surfaces in favor of the flat planes. Post-war changes in construction technology also began focusing on more industrial or manufactured, rather than hand-made approaches.
    • Rise of engineering: the company used to serve both as a structural engineer and constructor, but new codes forced the company to work under other structural engineers, many who didn’t understand the system and forced the company to over-build the structures.
    • Rise of reinforced concrete and thin shells: in 1913 German engineers built a concrete dome spanning 200’ (61 m) which, for the first time in 2000 years surpassed the Pantheon. In 1934 the Hayden planetarium in NYC was built with a concrete dome spanning 81’ (24m) and 3 inches thick (7.5cm). The American Concrete Institute promoted concrete as less expensive. In 1954 MIT organized an event on concrete shells and the Guastavino Company sent a representative to find out the price per square foot: $3. At that moment, due to rising labor cost, a Guastavino vault was $7 sqft.
    • RGE sold the company in 1950 and died in 1962. The last project is Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, GA, 1961
  1. Something to think about: How is it possible that the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company could supervise so many ongoing construction sites simultaneously?

Lastly, I read a quote by John Ochsendorf:

The way that the Guastavino Company built with the hands as much as the head, blurring boundaries between craft and tradition and modern technology, is something that both designers and builders can learn from.

Here I am after the Harvard screening showing a timeline we developed that follows the projects and main events in the Guastavinos’ lives.


A short version of the film (56 minutes), in Spanish, can be seen in: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/imprescindibles/imprescindibles-arquitecto-nueva-york-rafael-guastavino/3571098/

For more on our experience with Guastavino consulting, go here.

You may also be interested in viewing this map of many of the the Guastavino buildings.


A View from a First Timer’s APT Annual Conference

In October, 2017, the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) and the National Trust for Canada held CAPITALizing on HERITAGE: COMMUNITY, GOVERNMENT and SAVOIR-FAIRE in Ottawa. The joint conference showcased 190 speakers and over 40 exhibitors. With roughly 1,100 attendees and more than 20 countries represented, the four-day event became the largest heritage conference ever held in Canada. CAPITALizing on HERITAGE was my first APT Annual Conference, and fueled by a shameful amount of readily available coffee I made my way around paper sessions, banquets, and plenary discussions. Compared to regional APT symposia, the programming was diverse and immense with focuses ranging from the archeological unearthing and documentation of Nova Scotia’s built heritage to an exploration of Ontario’s northern wilderness in search of the rugged landscapes immortalized in paintings by the Group of Seven.

The trusty phone app.

Seven paper tracks covered topics as diverse as cultural landscapes, non-destructive testing, heritage advocacy, the economics of preservation, engineering, and sustainability. With my trusty phone app and program book in hand, I raced around the conference level to catch specific presentations, curating a personal agenda that offered talks on architectural diagnostics and documentation as well as those that were distinctly Canadian like heritage values and the rights of Canada’s First Nations people. Thanks in large part to programming arranged by the National Trust for Canada, the duality of Ottawa’s existence as both a modern capital city and the unceded ancestral territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe was never lost on those who attended the conference. This constant reminder sparked conversations that are simply not being discussed in the United States.

For every learning opportunity CAPITALizing on HERITAGE offered there was an occasion to network and reconnect. It became apparent that the social aspect of the event alone was worth the registration. In Ottawa, I attended the first meeting of the Technical Committee for Materials, talked shop with a former employer, shared a bottle of wine with new contacts, and was introduced to several leading authorities in preservation. I was happy to catch up with familiar faces from previous APT symposia as well. For someone who is relatively new to the field and APT, the Annual Conference offered an unparalleled opportunity to network.

Between the paper sessions, banquets and cocktail hours, CAPITALizing on HERITAGE was nearly overwhelming. Fortunately breaks in programming provided time to get out and explore downtown Ottawa. Whether it was views of Parliament Hill perched high above the confluence of three rivers or beaver tails in ByWard Market (fried dough smothered in butter and maple syrup did not disappoint), Ottawa delivered. The city proved to be an ideal venue for a joint conference with an emphasis on the built environment and interpretations of its cultural significance. With my first Annual Conference behind me I am looking forward to celebrating APT’S 50th Anniversary at Points of Departure next year in Buffalo. (I happen to be on the planning committee and so far it looks like it’s going to be an amazing event!)




Join the Fight for NY Scaffolding Reform November 8th

Next Wednesday, November 8, join Kent Diebolt as he attends the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) at their annual meeting where the fight for scaffold reform is still going strong. If you can’t attend, we urge to to consider joining LRANY and ensuring your voice is heard.

The Issue

New York Labor Law sections 240/241, commonly called the “Scaffold Law”, holds contractors and property owners absolutely liable for any elevation related injuries sustained by a worker, regardless of the worker’s own negligence.  New York is the only state in the nation which still has such a law.

The Solution

LRANY supports the elimination of the Scaffold Law’s absolute liability standard and the implementation of a comparative liability standard, in which a worker’s own negligence, intoxication, or refusal to use safety equipment may be admitted as evidence in court. This would stimulate job creation, improve workplace safety, and reduce the burden on the state and its taxpayers.

For more information: LRANY

Read about Congressman John Faso’s efforts

Dutch Reformed Church Earns Structural Investigation Project of the Year Award


Vertical Access and Ryan Biggs | Clark Davis were presented this month with a Structural Engineering Project of the Year Award in the studies/investigation category for our Dutch Reformed Church Structural Investigation project by the American Society of Civil Engineers Structural Engineering Institute’s Mohawk Hudson Chapter. This was an exciting project for us and we were glad to be a part of the team!

Our role on the project included:

  • Documenting checks, levels and other representative and notable conditions at the roof trusses with digital photographs hyperlinked to annotated condition drawings with quantities provided for each condition using TPAS®.
  • Taking direct measurements of truss members to characterize the trusses and develop sketches of existing connection details.
  • Helping to determine the cause of movement observed at the roof framing.

More on this project

Mike Russell Earns SPRAT Level II Certification

Mike Russell, EIT, has earned his Level II Certification from the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT).  A Level II certified individual is responsible for physically conducting rope access operations and/or safety evaluations of rope access operations, including maintenance of associated access equipment and performs all Rope Access Lead Technician duties as assigned in the employer’s rope access work program.  To become a SPRAT-certified technician, Mike was required to attend a certification session and pass a written test, verbal test, and a hands-on physical performance based test assessed by a SPRAT-certified Evaluator, in addition to logging 500 hours on the job as a SPRAT Level I certified professional.

Mike joined Vertical Access in 2016 bringing with him over six years of experience working in the construction industry, both commercial and residential, specifically relating to project management, sustainable building practices, and restoration in residential and maritime environments.

He began restoring boats for the City of Charleston (South Carolina) Maritime Foundation while pursuing a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston.  Following his switch to the field of engineering, Mike joined a residential construction firm located on the Connecticut shoreline that specialized in the restoration and rehabilitation of barns and historic homes.  From there he went on to join Whiting-Turner, a national contracting firm where he worked as a project engineer on large scale commercial projects before joining Vertical Access in the summer of 2016.

Announcing the TPAS 2017 Release Webinar

TPAS 2017 is here! Join TPAS LLC and Vertical Access for a live, interactive webinar on October 11 at 1pm EDT to learn about the new 2017 features as well as the basics of the Tablet PC Annotation System. Vertical Access uses TPAS for direct-to-digital surveys, saving time in the field and in the office.

Visit the TPAS Blog for more information about the 2017 release and webinar, or click here to register.

Congressman John Faso Joins Effort to Reform New York State Scaffold Law

Congressman John Faso announced on Tuesday the introduction of innovative, new legislation entitled the “Infrastructure Expansion Act,” which would relieve some of the negative effects of New York State’s Scaffold Law by imposing a liability standard of comparative negligence on all construction projects that receive federal financial assistance. This legislation is directly intended to reduce the cost of new construction – both public and private – which is subsidized using federal funds.  The proposal would ensure that any project using federal dollars is not subject to New York law mandating “absolute liability” on the building owners and contractors.

Listen to the WCNY interview below, and read the full press release here.

September 19, 2017: Rep. John Faso and Mike Elmendorf


For more about the Scaffold Law Reform, visit www.scaffoldlaw.org