The Ruins of Chan Chan

On a recent trip to Peru I had the opportunity to visit some of the ruins at Chan Chan, located in La Libertad province around the city of Trujillo. Built around 1200, Chan Chan served as the capital of the Chimu Kingdom until falling to the Incas around 1480. The city covered 20 square km, was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and a monumental example of earthen architecture. At its height Chan Chan is believed to have had a population of around 60,000 people.

Due to the consistency of the swells in nearby Huanchaco, I was preoccupied with surfing for most of my time in the Trujillo area and only visited the Tschudi Complex, a relatively small section of the Chimu city. In all the city consisted of 9 walled citadels, or palaces, so there are several more interesting sights worth visiting.

Preservation efforts at the Tschudi Complex, which is the only section of Chan Chan that has been partially restored, are ongoing. Most of the architectural details are modern recreations though there are a few originals that remain. Due to its geographic location on the northern coast of Peru the ruins are susceptible to erosion from the heavy rains brought on by the El Niño phenomenon so much of the Tschudi Complex is now covered by a protective roof structure, which I found to be interesting in its own way. Upon returning to Huanchaco I immediately recognized some of the same architectural motifs at the Instituto del Mar del Peru, Laboratorio Costero de Huanchaco.

Besides being an important cultural site I think that Chan Chan is also a powerful example of ecological construction. It’s interesting to see how a 500+ year old city constructed of locally sourced, earthen material slowly returns to it’s original form leaving almost no trace of it’s existence. Try to imagine what a modern city will look like 500+ years from now.

Learn more about Chan Chan on the UNESCO website.

Notes from the Field – Preservation League of New York State

In October, Technical Services staff visited the Dutch Reformed Church in Newburgh to check in on an important step forward for the structure. The church, built in 1835, was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and is a National Historic Landmark. The League named the Dutch Reformed Church a “Seven to Save” site for 2016-17 and is working with the City of Newburgh and local preservation advocates to make a stabilization, preservation, and re-use plan for the building.

In 2012, the sanctuary ceiling collapsed, crushing the pews inside and destroying additional important interior features. Because the condition of the building rapidly declined after the ceiling collapse, a complete structural analysis of the upper trusses and roof was absolutely necessary in developing a plan to save the building. But how could we complete this inspection and analysis when the building’s condition was so dangerous?

CONTINUE READINGNotes from the Field – Preservation League of New York State

source: Preservation League of New York

New Directive From Archdiocese Is A Call To Arms Against Preservation

Last week the Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued an order to pastors and religious officials baring all involvement in placing churches on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Patrick Hildebrandt, founder of the Philadelphia Church Project, says the rigid edict wages war on historic Catholic church survival and preservation.

Source: New Directive From Archdiocese Is A Call To Arms Against Preservation

How the Tent of Tomorrow Got its New Coat of Paint

Predicted by its organizers to be the “greatest single event in history,” the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was indeed a spectacle. One of the most notable structures of the Fair, and one of the few that still stands, is the New York State Pavilion. Looking to create a symbol of progress and to show off the state’s status as host of the Fair, Governor Rockefeller commissioned Philip Johnson, who worked with structural engineer Lev Zetlin, to design the New York State Pavilion. The pavilion was in fact an assemblage of three separate structures: the open-air Tent of Tomorrow, three interconnected Observation Towers, and the circular Theaterama.

The Tent of Tomorrow was used for several years after the end of the Fair in 1965, first for music and art shows, then as the “Roller Round Skating Rink.” In the summer of 1974, the City closed the tent structure, citing the “hazardous condition” of the Kalwall roof panels. The multicolored roof panels were removed in 1976, leaving the structure in more or less its current state.

Although unused for over forty years, the Tent of Tomorrow is showing new life thanks to the work of New York area painters. The City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) who owns the structure, teamed with the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors Association and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Local 806 (Structural Steel and Bridge Painters of Greater New York) to complete a spectacular painting project during the summer of 2015.

Labor for the painting project was donated through apprenticeship programs of the trade groups. Funding to provide meals for the crew during the work was raised through crowdsourced funding. The paint job not only returns the steel elements of the Tent of Tomorrow to their original appearance, it also helps to protect the structure from continued corrosion and deterioration. The painting project is one step in the long process being undertaken by DPR and the borough of Queens to stabilize and hopefully one day restore the Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers of the New York State Pavilion.

Photos by Vertical Access.

Investigating and Understanding the New York State Pavilion’s Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers

In April of 2015, the Friends of NCPTT, the World Monuments Fund, the American Institute of Architects St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial partnered to jointly present a symposium on the preservation of Mid-Century modern structures in St. Louis, MO. This three-day event brought experts together to present an in-depth understanding of the history, use, and preservation of materials found in Mid-Century modern architecture.

Evan Kopelson, partner at Vertical Access and Nancy Hudson, associate at Silman,  co-authored the presentation Investigating and Understanding the New York State Pavilion’s Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers.  It gives an overview of the New York State Pavilion’s innovative design and engineering, describes the current condition of the Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers, highlights the importance of archival research in revealing construction methods and details, and addresses reuse challenges.  The entire presentation is available for viewing below.


About the Speakers

Nancy R. Hudson has 20 years of consulting structural engineering experience. Ms. Hudson joined Silman in 2005 and was named an Associate in 2007. Her projects include the restoration of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Restoration of New York City Hall and Restoration of Wyoming State Capitol. She is a member of the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY) and the Association for Preservation Technology (APT). Ms. Hudson has a Master of Science in Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Evan Kopelson is an architectural conservator with over twenty years of experience in the documentation and investigation of historic buildings. He is Vertical Access’ partner-in-charge of teams performing existing condition surveys, in situ testing services, and the characterization of building materials and finishes on buildings and bridges. Evan is a member of the ASTM Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, and is a professional associate of the American Institute for Conservation, having formerly served as secretary/treasurer of the AIC’s Architecture Specialty Group. Evan has also served as vice-president of the Western Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology International.

More presentations from the symposium may be viewed on the NCPTT website.

You Can Help SAVE The Historic Hanging Flume!

The Hanging Flume is the most intact structure of its kind in the United States, and it is the only hanging flume in a condition suitable for preservation, education and interpretation. It illustrates the ingenuity and fortitude of the engineers and miners intent on extracting gold from the land. The Hanging Flume is a historically significant cultural resource recognized by:

  •  The World Monuments Fund – 2006 Most Endangered Sites list
  •   The State of Colorado – Most Endangered Places of 1999
  •   National Register of Historic Places

Time is Running Out to Document the Flume

The Hanging Flume is deteriorating as a result of the ongoing effects of exposure to the elements, falling debris and rock slides, and scavenging. The threat of losing key segments of the flume means the time is now to investigate and document remaining sections before the evidence is gone forever. Previous expeditions have documented approximately 10 percent of the remaining sections of the Hanging Flume. At each location, different construction configurations were discovered. The urgency for conducting this project now is that undocumented segments may contain key information on the construction of the Flume that will be lost as the 130-year-old structure continues to deteriorate.

What We Need & What You Get

Your contribution will help the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado send a team of experts to document additional remaining sections of the flume. The original project team that has made expeditions to the flume and produced technical reports over the past decade is ready to conduct the next phase of investigative work. To get the team to the flume, we only need to raise $20,000 more in order to match over $140,000 already raised!

Contributions at any level are greatly appreciated. Contributors at the $50 level will receive a copy of the 60-minute DVD film about the Hanging Flume, “The Best Kept Secret of the Wild West.” Please share our campaign with your network to make an even greater impact!

Learn more and get involved here.

Conrad B. Duberstein U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse Restoration Receives Lucy G. Moses Award

On April 30, 2015 the New York Landmarks Conservancy presented their annual prestigious Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards for outstanding preservation projects in New York City.

Vertical Access is proud to have been part of the team that received recognition for the restoration of the Conrad B. Duberstein U. S. Courthouse in Brooklyn, NY.


Project Team
General Services Administration
Goody Clancy & Associates
Boston Valley Terra Cotta
Jablonski Building Conservation
Nicholson & Galloway
Preservation Design
Robert Silman Associates
Vertical Access


Learn more
The New York Landmarks Conservancy
General Services Administration
Traditional Buildings Magazine

Team Collaboration Key to Success on Toronto Heritage Building Envelope Project

A recent article in the Daily Commercial News describes the process of rehabilitating historic buildings – called heritage buildings in Canada – and mentions Vertical Access’ investigation of One King West, the former Dominion Bank Building in Toronto, Ontario. The article recaps a seminar presentation by Sarah Gray, managing principal with Halsall Associates, our client for the One King West project.

Ms. Gray highlighted the importance of archival research, testing, and inspection in the early stages of a repair or rehabilitation project. For One King West, Vertical Access provided a hands-on inspection and documentation of building conditions using TPAS®, the Tablet PC Annotation System. TPAS is now being used for the construction administration of the rehabilitation of One King West, demonstrating the flexibility and adaptability of the software for a variety of documentation and reporting needs.

The article, entitled “Heritage envelope rehab a balancing act”, was written by Dan O’Reilly and was published on January 5, 2015.

Vertical Access technicians inspect the One King West building in Toronto

Vertical Access technicians inspect the One King West building in Toronto

More on this project

In the News: Penn Station

An article by Michael Beschloss in the New York Times, entitled A Place That Made Travelers Feel Important, recalls the 1963 demolition of Pennsylvania Station and hints at the possibility of a new Penn Station. The loss of Penn Station was a watershed event in the historic preservation movement, influencing the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966 and contributing to the preservation of countless other structures.

The article describes the financial situation that drove the decision to demolish the station: the Pennsylvania Railroad was losing money in the 1950s, and fearing a continued decline of passenger rail travel, the railroad’s executives decided to lease the site to the Madison Square Garden Corporation, which replaced the station’s grand public spaces with a new arena atop the existing platforms.

Mr. Beschloss includes architectural historian Vincent Scully’s oft-quoted observation comparing the old Penn Station with its current incarnation: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

A sign that a new and more worthy Penn Station could be in the making is the fact that in 2013 the New York City Council voted to extend Madison Square Garden’s zoning permit for only 10 years. With the current station barely able to meet current demand, perhaps economic forces will once again shape a Penn Station that makes travelers feel, if not godly, then at least important.


For more about Penn Station’s past and future:

A new play retells the demolition of Penn Station against a backdrop of historic images:

The Municipal Art Society of New York challenges leading design firms to envision a new Penn Station:

“Capitol” Projects

Capitols are among our favorite types of buildings to work on, and since our first investigation of the Massachusetts State House twenty years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of visiting ten of them – eight state capitols in addition to the U.S. Capitol and Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building. Earlier this month, Vertical Access returned to the Michigan State Capitol, where we first worked in 2005 with Quinn Evans Architects and The Christman Company.


Kent inspects the drum of the Michigan State Capitol in 2005.

The last major restoration of Michigan’s capitol was completed in 1992, and the purpose of our 2005 visit was to see how the paint coatings and materials were holding up at the drum, dome and lantern. Nine years later, with over twenty years elapsed since the 1992 restoration, we once again made the trip to Lansing, Michigan to inspect the dome. This time, there were also reports of water infiltration. Returning with the same project team, technicians Evan Kopelson and Keith Luscinski surveyed the dome, drum and lantern using TPAS™ (Tablet PC Annotation System) to document existing conditions for an upcoming repair project.

Do all of the state capitols have domes?

All but twelve of the fifty state capitols have an exterior dome (original plans for both the Ohio and New York State Capitols included domes that were never built). Many early state capitol buildings in the United States were topped with domes inspired by examples from Europe and ancient Rome. The U.S. Capitol dome, completed in 1866, set the standard for the state capitol domes that would follow. Most of the current state capitols were built after 1866, and the national capitol’s massive cast-iron dome had a strong influence on many of them.

Access challenges

It can be difficult to gain hands-on access to all of those domes and cupolas. Fixed ladders, access hatches, and windows usually provide a way to reach the exterior of a dome lantern or cupola, where we can set up anchors for rope access drops. But some buildings have no access systems in place, like the Wyoming State Capitol, where we hauled a heavy 40-foot ladder into the dome in order to climb to the top. Even with these challenges, using industrial rope access for domes, cupolas, and towers is fast, efficient, and economical compared to other means of access.

NJ before and after

The New Jersey State House before restoration (left, during VA’s 1996 investigation) and after restoration (right, during our 2013 visit).

Capital projects for capitol buildings

Monumental public buildings often have monumental price tags for restoration, with deferred maintenance being a major cost driver. Some of the challenges for building professionals working on state capitols include ever-changing occupant needs, increased standards for safety and security, accessibility, energy efficiency, and technology upgrades. Facilities maintenance was put on the back burner during the Great Recession, but many states are now moving ahead with repair and restoration projects. State capitols in the news for recent, ongoing, or planned repair and restoration campaigns include Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, OregonSouth Dakota, and the U.S. Capitol.


A few of the conditions we’ve documented on capitol buildings.

Vertical Access’ “capitol” projects at a glance


Inspecting the U.S. Capitol dome. Photo by Jon Reis Photography.

United States Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1793 (William Thornton, Stephen Hallet), 1795-98 (George Hadfield), 1798-1802 (James Hoban), 1803-1818 (Benjamin Henry Latrobe), 1818-1826 (Charles Bulfinch), 1850-68 (Thomas U. Walter, Montgomery C. Meigs)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron

Scope of work: VA conducted a hands-on inspection of all of the cast iron dome’s exterior from the base of the Statue of Freedom to the peristyle column capitals.

Project team: Office of the Architect of the Capitol


The Michigan State Capitol in 2005.

Michigan State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1872-1878 (Elijah Myers)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron drum and sheet metal-clad dome, lantern and finial

Scope of work: VA inspected materials and paint finishes at the drum, dome, lantern and finial.

Project team: Quinn Evans Architects, The Christman Company




Inspecting the New Jersey State House in 1996.

New Jersey State House

Dates and Architects: 1792 (Jonathon Doane), 1845 (John Notman), 1871 (Samuel Sloane), 1889 (dome, Lewis Broome)

Landmark Status: Contributing resource in a National Register Historic District

Materials: Cast iron drum and lantern and gilded copper dome.

Scope of work: VA coordinated site investigations and safe access for a comprehensive restoration completed in 1999. Our 2013 investigation included ultrasonic testing, paint adhesion testing, and fiber-optic investigation with live-feed video.

Project team: (2013) Preservation Design Partnership, H2L2 Architects, Building Conservation AssociatesStephen McLaughlin Roofing Consulting (1996) Jan Hird Pokorny Architects & Planners, Robert Silman Associates, Vulcan Supply, Gold Leaf Studios, Preservation Architecture, Mazia/Tech-Com, Matthew J. Mosca, McKernan Satterlee Associates, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities



Documenting the roof trusses of the New York State Capitol.

New York State Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1867-1875 (Thomas Fuller), 1875-1883 (Leopold Eidlitz, Henry Hobson Richardson), 1883-1899 (Isaac G. Perry)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Iron roof trusses, iron and glass skylights

Scope of work: VA surveyed the trusses supporting the massive roofs, performed water testing and fiber-optic investigation, and provided client access to skylights.

Project team: (2003-2004) Robert Silman Associates, (2006) Simpson Gumpertz & Heger




Inspecting the gilded copper dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Massachusetts State House

Dates and Architects: 1795-1798 (Charles Bulfinch and Charles Brigham), 1917 (Sturgis, Chapman & Andrews)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Sheet copper

Scope of work: VA surveyed the dome, which was gilded in 1874 and had been painted many times since then. The dome was restored and re-gilded following VA’s investigation.

Project team: Goody, Clancy & Associates; Gold Leaf Studios




Keith inspects the Wyoming State Capitol.

Wyoming State Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1886-1917 (David W. Gibbs, William DuBois)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron, galvanized sheet metal, sheet lead, and gilded copper

Scope of work: VA conducted a 100% hands-on survey of the drum, dome, and lantern exterior, characterized the materials used at various locations, assessed the condition of paint coatings (including adhesion testing and removal of samples), and identified prior painting campaigns.

Project team: HDR Architecture, Preservation Design Partnership, Robert Silman Associates, GB Geotechnics USA


WV courtesy SHCA

Investigating the gilded dome of the West Virginia State Capitol. Photo by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects.

West Virginia State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1932 (Cass Gilbert)

Landmark Status: Contributing resource in a National Register Historic District

Materials: Gilded sheet copper and lead

Scope of work: VA performed an exterior condition survey of the dome and cupola.

Project team: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects



The interior rotunda dome of the Virginia State Capitol.

Virginia State Capitol

Date and Architects: 1785 (Thomas Jefferson, Charles-Louis Clerisseau)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Plaster, wood

Scope of work: VA provided access consulting for interior lighting of the capitol’s rotunda.

Project team: Hillier Architecture



Checking out the pediment sculpture at the Kentucky State Capitol.





Kentucky State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1905-1909 (Frank Mills Andrews)

Landmark Status: National Register of Historic Places

Materials: Limestone and granite

Scope of work: VA provided access and assisted in performing an exterior condition survey.

Project team: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.


Kelly inspects the Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building.

Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building 

Date and Architects: 1960 (Lawson, Betts, and Cash, with A.J.C. Paine)

Materials: Limestone and brick

Scope of work: VA conducted a hands-on survey of the limestone masonry, hammer-sounding each unit, and used non-destructive evaluation to identify blind delamination within limestone units.

Project team: Jokinen Engineering Services






This video from the Architect of the Capitol about the U.S. Capitol dome restoration includes photographs from VA’s condition survey.


All photographs by Vertical Access except where noted otherwise