Can you identify this building? – Series No. 12

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. 12:

This monumental cathedral – one of the largest churches in the world – has been under construction since 1892. Many delightful details can be found in its stone sculpture, along with a clue to its name. Where is it?

P1010079

P1010078

P1020870

P1040031

Answer: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York, NY. The cathedral was originally designed by the firm of Heins & LaFarge in 1888 in a Byzantine-Romanesque style, and later modified by Ralph Adams Cram in the Gothic Revival style.  In 1909 a “temporary” Guastavino tile dome was installed over the crossing; over 100 years later, the dome is still in place and is the largest Guastavino dome ever constructed. The cathedral opened from end-to-end for the first time in 1941, nearly 50 years after construction began. World War II halted building activity, which resumed in the 1970s and 80s, however the cathedral still has not been completed.

P1000272

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.

 

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:

The clues to this building’s use are in its marble and terra cotta ornament. It was designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, and completed in 1930. Where is it?

119-61-1

egg&dart, shell & trident

Capture_00146

Answer: Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL. This indoor public aquarium was once the largest in the world, holding over five million gallons of water. The building’s Beaux Arts style complements neighboring buildings on the Museum Campus Chicago.

IMG_0024

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.

Celebrating the Life and Work of Guastavino at Recent Cultural Screenings and 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.

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

On October 23, I moderated a round table following the documentary screening at the Instituto Cervantes NYC.

The participants of the round table were:

  • Jaume Soler, an acoustician with more than 20 years of experience designing theatres 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.
  2. 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 impacteded fields such as theatric and other performing arts.
    • “Whispering gallery” sound effects were not designed intentionally but are an artifact of architectural design.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Guastavinos 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 cost $7 square foot.
    • RGE sold the company in 1950 and died in 1962. The last project is Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, GA, 1961.
  4. Something to think about: How is it possible that the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company could supervise so many ongoing construction sites simultaneously?

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.

Reviving Hospitals and Asylums for the 21st Century

Abandoned hospitals and asylums may be a horror film cliche, but the statistics on vacant, threatened, and demolished institutional complexes are all too real. Search “abandoned asylum” and the first hit is an article on the popular website Atlas Obscura: “18 Abandoned Psychiatric Hospitals, and Why They Were Left Behind.” Of the hundreds of asylums built in the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries, most became underused or vacant during the deinstitutionalization movement of mid-20th century. Some have been repurposed, but many more await revitalization.

Partial demolition of the New York City Lunatic Asylum. Library of Congress, call number HABS NY,31-WELFI,6–2

Psychiatric hospitals are challenging to reuse. Many of them are physical reminders of tragic chapters in the history of mental health treatment, and often include patient burials on the site. Some contain buildings that have been vacant for decades, subject to neglect and vandalism.

But there are many reasons why hospitals and asylums are historically significant and should be preserved. First and foremost, they are places of memory for understanding and recording the histories of the thousands of individuals who lived and died on their grounds. Former hospitals also serve as a record of the changing attitudes about institutionalization and treatment of mental illness in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. And, many are recognized as works by master designers and as examples of the prevailing architectural styles of their times. Tuberculosis sanatoriums, smallpox hospitals, and soldiers’ homes are among other institutional building types sharing some of the same challenges and opportunities for adaptive use as asylums.

The Richardson Olmsted Complex in 1965. Photo by Jack E. Boucher. Library of Congress, call number HABS NY,15-BUF,9-1

These complexes also contain durable building stock representing a significant amount of embodied energy. Many of the sprawling campuses were designed to be self-sufficient farms, so they have plenty of room for sensitive infill or new construction to meet accessibility standardizing. Buildings on the campus of the Richardson Olmsted Complex (formerly the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane and now a National Historic Landmark) have been reborn as Hotel Henry and the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center, while other buildings have been stabilized for future renovation. The campus recently hosted enLIGHTen, an outdoor concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with a custom-designed light show projected onto the H.H. Richardson-designed main building.


Binghamton’s “Castle on the Hill”
By Kfbill08 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11013391

Closer to our home office in Ithaca, the former New York State Inebriate Asylum in Binghamton (now also known as the “Castle on the Hill”) is a National Historic Landmark awaiting rehabilitation. It was chartered in 1854 as the first facility in the U.S. to treat alcoholism as a medical illness, but was converted to a mental hospital in the 1870s. Plans were announced in 2008 for SUNY Upstate Medical University to revitalize the complex, but the project was abandoned during the recession. In 2015, Binghamton University took over stewardship of the property, and exterior work is expected to begin in early 2018.

Vertical Access on site at the St. Elizabeths West Campus, U.S. General Services Administration. Photo by Vertical Access.

Another large campus currently undergoing long-term revitalization is the 346-acre St. Elizabeths in Washington, D.C. (also a National Historic Landmark), where Vertical Access recently completed a smokestack investigation working with Atkinson-Noland & Associates and Goody Clancy. The multi-phase project includes repurposing some existing buildings, mothballing others, and adding new construction in order to house the United States Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. Architecture of an Asylum: St. Elizabeths 1852-2017 is on exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C through January 15, 2018.

 

Historic Ithaca Executive Director Search

Historic Ithaca is seeking candidates for the position of Executive Director. Established in 1966 as a community response to threats to downtown Ithaca landmarks, HI is the non-profit voice for preservation in Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes Region.  The new ED will join an exceptional team of staff, board members, and volunteers promoting the values of historic preservation and livable communities throughout Tompkins County. From job training and architectural salvage to grassroots advocacy, technical services, and educational events, Historic Ithaca makes a big impact in our community. Click here for details on the job posting and to learn more about HI’s work.


 

Scaffold Law Reform Day at the Capital was a SUCCESS!

Evan Kopelson returned from the Scaffold Law Reform Day at the Capital with good news: new legislation has been introduced by Assemblymember John McDonald aimed at modernizing the liability rules under the state’s Scaffold Law. If passed, this fix to New York’s arcane law will go into effect January 1, 2018.

Advocates for reform gathered at the state capitol to urge legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo to fix this only-in-New York Scaffold Law, and highlight the law’s impact on taxpayers and local governments.

As part of the day’s events, Assemblymember McDonald announced the bill he has sponsored that will provide significant saving for local governments and help keep New York insurance premiums in line with other states while keeping the law’s safety provisions intact.

https://lrany.org/2017/02/16/albany-assemblymember-introduces-bill-to-fix-new-yorks-arcane-scaffold-law/

To view the bill: http://scaffoldlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/A5624-McDonald-Bill-Text.pdf

For  more on the Scaffold Law Reform efforts: http://scaffoldlaw.org/

Welcome Erin Bullard!

erin3We’re excited to have Erin Bullard join the firm as Director of Marketing and Business Development supporting our Vertical Access, Alta Access, and TPAS services. Erin brings 10 years of experience in the A/E/C industry. Armed with a BS in Physics she sought work in engineering firms but realized marketing is more fun so she earned a BA in Creative Writing Arts and headed to the creative side. Always inquisitive, the science background has come in handy in the A/E/C industry and though she’s afraid of heights, Erin’s pretty excited to join our team.

Scaffold Law Lobby Day 2017

scaffold-law-reform-logo-2017On Tuesday, February 14th, advocates from across New York will meet at the State Capitol in Albany to urge elected officials to reform the antiquated Labor Law Sections 240/241. Evan Kopelson will be attending to show his support for scaffold reform. Here are the facts.

This law, first enacted in the 19th century and sometimes referred to as the Scaffold Law, is the only law of its kind in the country that imposes absolute liability on owners and contractors, without regard to cause and with virtually no opportunity for defense as part of a due process procedure.  This has had a huge economic impact on construction costs, ultimately costing New York taxpayers an estimated $785 million annually, and making some businesses and projects uninsurable.

Join us in the fight. This is your chance to make your voice heard! Registration is free, and you may bring guests.   http://scaffoldlaw.org/scaffold-law-lobby-day-2017/

Mesa to Mountain: Preservation in the American West

banner-for-apt-website-72

Registration is LIVE for Mesa to Mountain! Join us in Salt Lake City, Utah from March 23-25 for a symposium hosted by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology International. Vertical Access is a sponsor of Mesa to Mountain and founding principal Kent Diebolt is a co-chair of the local planning committee.

Salt Lake City is a crossroads of the American West and abounds with historic resources and projects that will be of interest to APT members from across the country. Mesa to Mountain will explore the rich history and unique preservation challenges of this region with a focus on western sites, materials, and conditions.

The symposium kicks off on Thursday, March 23 with a plenary address, “The Architectural History of Utah”, and reception at the historic Alta Club. Friday begins with a keynote addresses, “Paths, Pathogens, Ponies, and Wheels: How Trails Changed the Cultural Geography of America” and “Preserving the Traditional: The Limits of Traditional Skills as a Preservation Approach”. Friday continues with a full day of paper sessions following three tracks: Seismic Retrofit of Historic Buildings, Materials and Construction Techniques, and Cultural Heritage Management. On Saturday, three full-day field sessions will take participants to historic sites and preservation projects in the Salt Lake City area.

Click HERE for the full conference program.

APT is an approved provider of American Institute of Architects continuing education Learning Units (LUs). LUs will be available for paper sessions and tours.

Visit the symposium web page for more information.