Guastavino Vault Workshop at APT NYC 2013 Conference

clientuploads/2013_conference_art/P1080599.jpgSponsored in part by a grant from NCPTT Workshop.

Fri, Oct 11, 8:00 – 5:00
Sat, Oct 12, 8:00 – 4:00
Location: Ottavino Stone

“American architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would often leave empty spaces in their blueprints and simply write, ‘Guastavino here.’ They had faith that Rafael Guastavino would create elegant, highly functional spaces to grace their buildings. Guastavino — part architect, part engineer — was particularly famous for his beautifully crafted, structurally powerful, tiled arched vaults.” (An excerpt – read the full article from the Boston Globe.)

Participants will have the opportunity to construct a variety of simple “Guastavino” vaults. The morning of the first day will involve a demonstration of the construction, after which, teams of approximately six participants will have the opportunity to undertake “hands-on” construction of these vaults. Vaults will be constructed of single, double and triple wythes of tile, and may be load tested at a later date.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Lay out and initiate a simple tile vault
  2. Mix mortars to appropriate consistency and quantities to install both soffit and structural tile wythes
  3. Set soffit and structural tile to progress through multiple-wythe construction
  4. Experience the sequence of construction, including the breaking of joints
  5. Strike and clean joints, particularly in the soffit layer of tile
  6. Develop an appreciation for the craftsmanship that has been lost since the construction of vaults in so many important buildings across the United States

For more details visit the APT NYC 2013 Conference Website

Ultrasonic Investigation for the Characterization and Evaluation of Guastavino Tile Vaults: A Pilot Study

The third biennial meeting of The Construction History Society of America was held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge MA November 2-3, 2012. This scholarly forum is a venue for professionals from a wide range of construction related disciplines to come together to exchange ideas and research findings about their passions for design, engineering, and preservation.

This year, in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces at Boston Public Library, all of Saturday’s agenda was devoted to the exploration of  topics pertaining to his work.

VA’s presentation, Evaluation of In-Service Tile Vaults, was based on findings from a pilot study performed on a mockup of a Guastavino vault with simulated faults, such as voids and delaminations, built into the vault as it was being constructed.  The abstract and full report are included below.


Presentation by Kelly Streeter, P.E. and Kent Diebolt
3rd Biennial Meeting of the Construction History Society of America
Cambridge, MA | November 3, 2012

In response to aging infrastructure in the United States, nondestructive evaluation (NDE) is increasingly used as a monitoring tool, a method of investigation and in a quality control capacity.  The adaptation of existing NDE techniques to the evaluation of historic architectural and structural materials provides great potential for increasing the information available to professionals evaluating historic structures.

Guastavino ceiling tiles on the south arcade of the Manhattan Municipal Building

Guastavino ceiling tiles on the south arcade of the Manhattan Municipal Building

The process of addressing the significant public safety concerns of aging tile assemblies, such as Guastavino tile vaults, can be complicated by the difficulty of access – the undersides of the tiles often soar over heavily-used public spaces commonly filled with pews and other structures which make temporary scaffolding problematic.  The proposed sounding method examines the feasibility of evaluating Guastavino tile vaults from the top, which would allow architects and engineers to evaluate the vaults from the often easily-accessible attic spaces, thereby reducing the need for expensive and disruptive scaffolding systems for evaluation.  This could also facilitate more frequent periodic inspections.

Engineers evaluating the structural condition of existing tile vaults often need to determine construction details, including combined wythe and mortar bed thicknesses, in order to model vaults. Hammer sounding is frequently employed to qualitatively evaluate the condition of the soffit layer of Guastavino tile.  The ultimate goal of this research path and the basis of this pilot study on the ultrasonic investigation of Guastavino tile vaults was the removal of the aural subjectivity inherent in hammersounding by the quantification of this same phenomenon: the differing acoustic quality of delaminated and bonded tiles.  By capturing and quantifying the impact response of steel hammer taps with an ultrasonic transducer and data acquisition system, the raw signals can be analyzed in the frequency domain using modern computational methods in an effort to characterize vault construction and condition.

Download the full report

Highlights from 2012 SPRAT Annual Conference in Golden, CO

Mike Gilbert and Keith Luscinski traveled to Golden, Colorado this month to attend the 2012 conference for the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT). SPRAT is an organization comprised of individuals, companies, and agencies that have a stake in the safe development of rope access standards and practices. Although SPRAT is based in the United States, its scope is international. Currently, SPRAT members hail from the USA, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The membership includes individual practitioners, companies that provide rope access services, training or equipment, and government agencies.

Mike Gilbert, Level 3 SPRAT certified. Location: Jefferson Market Library, New York City. Photo by Ken Kobland.

SPRAT supports rope access practitioners with certification programs, regulatory support, networking, and opportunities to participate in developing industry-consensus standards. The key elements of the conference took place on Thursday and Friday, January 12 and 13.

Keith Luscinski, Level 3 SPRAT Certified. Location: Arthur Ravenel Bridge, Charleston, SC. Photo by Vertical Access.

On Thursday afternoon, a meeting was held by the Standards Committee, which comprises all SPRAT members. The Standards Committee oversees the key subcommittees that maintain and promulgate the current SPRAT standards and formulate new standards.  SPRAT has recently been seeing growth in new countries and industries, which was certainly evidenced by the committee’s attendance.  Members were present from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Turkey, as well as from the window cleaning, chimney repair and telecommunication sectors.  Vertical Access, however, was one of only a few firms representing the East Coast.

An interesting new development by the Standards Committee is the introduction of a rope access company audit program.  This effort is the purview of the Company Audit Subcommittee. Keith attended the subcommittee meeting Thursday afternoon.

Intended to be a voluntary process, the audit would add distinction to businesses that are fully SPRAT compliant.  Currently, SPRAT certifies individual technicians but has no process for evaluations at the employer level.  This year will likely see a handful of trial runs of the audit program, with a full implementation of the program within the next few years. Vertical Access is interested in this program, and will likely participate in the “beta testing”.

Friday was primarily given over to presentations by the SPRAT membership and interested outside parties and without a doubt, the hottest topic at the conference was Petzl’s presentation of its recent statement regarding the Shunt backup device. Used by the majority of industrial rope access technicians in the United States, the Shunt has been an inexpensive, lightweight and user-friendly fall-protection/backup device for over fifteen years.

Petzl’s recent statement addresses the hazard of an uncontrolled descent should the user either fail to let go of the Shunt or grab the Shunt in the event of a fall or working line failure.  While this hazard has been acknowledged by Petzl and rope access practitioners for years, recent testing suggested the previous policy of allowing the Shunt to be used by trained technicians does not adequately mitigate the hazard.

The Petzl Shunt

The conclusion is that in spite of our best intentions, we cannot train panic. As part of the statement, Petzl advises against the use of the device for industrial rope access applications.  Many industrial rope access companies are now searching for other backup devices that are “panic proof,” meaning that they will arrest a fall even if grabbed by the user.

While every occupation has its hazards, historical data shows an exceedingly low rate of major injuries to industrial rope access technicians.  See statistics gathered by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association.

SPRAT is reviewing its evaluation criteria in light of the previously ubiquitous use of the Shunt device. Vertical Access will begin using an alternative device, while we all await the development of the ideal backup device. Attention all inventors…..

Vertical Access presents at International Facility Management Association Facility Fusion 2011

Vertical Access Technicians inspecting the tower of Gasson Hall in 2006.

At the end March, Vertical Access partner Evan Kopelson was a co-presenter at the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) Facility Fusion conference with Wendall Kalsow of McGinley Kalsow & Associates and Ivan Myjer of Building and Monument Conservation.  The three presenters discussed the team’s systematic approach to Architectural Preservation at the Boston College Campus, focusing on the restoration of the school’s main building, Gasson Hall. The team has worked together on the investigation of five buildings at Boston College, beginning with Gasson Hall in 2006 and continuing with Bapst and Burns Library, St. Mary’s Hall, Devlin Hall and Lyons Hall. With the investigation of each of these buildings, Vertical Access’ role has been to gain hands-on access to all areas of the buildings and perform unit-by-unit documentation of existing conditions using TPAS. The data collected by VA was then evaluated by McGinley Kalsow and Ivan Myjer to prepare treatment recommendations and assist Boston College with prioritizing future capital repair projects.

Mike Gilbert inspecting masonry conditions at St. Mary's Hall in 2007

IFMA is a member-based organization comprised of facility managers and professionals who provide services to them. The Facility Fusion 2011 conference in Boston included three days of presentations, inspiring keynote and power lectures and an exhibition area with product and service vendors.

You can view and download a  pdf of the presentation here: IFMA presentation 8.06 021811

SCUP Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, March 6-8 in Williamsburg, VA

The Mid-Atlantic Region of The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) held its annual conference from March 6 to 8 in Williamsburg, VA.  Vertical Access partner Evan Kopelson attended the conference.  Most of the events of the conference took place on the campus of the College of William and Mary, which contains a wide range of significant buildings from the Wren Building, the oldest college building in the United States, to a new state-of-the-art business school designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.  Most of the 200 plus conference attendees were architects, planners and engineers, with a large contingent of college and university representatives and a smaller number of equipment and support service vendors.

The Wren Building, College of WIlliam and Mary


One of the interesting features of the conference was that about half of the presentations were interactive sessions, which combined a technical presentation with complete audience participation.  All participants had the opportunity to participate in design charrettes, role play as various team members discussing sustainability options and even play “Scupopoly” to understand the intricacies of campus real estate planning.  Case studies presented over two days of concurrent sessions examined various aspects of higher education planning, from academic curricula to renovations of interior spaces to the design of entire new campuses.  The interactive sessions as well as the overall atmosphere of the conference promoted a sense of collegiality, partnership and sharing of knowledge.


Social Media and Business

I recently attended a workshop, “Driving Business with Social Media”, presented by Neal Schaffer, president of Windmills Marketing. The event, sponsored by the Rochester Business Journal, had an audience representing a broad cross-section of businesses from the Rochester NY region.  The presentation covered best practices for implementing social media platforms into every day business activities. Topics covered how to increase searchability online with blogs, and using LinkedIn, Facebook,  and Twitter.   The use of some, or all, of these communication tools have really become a critical must-have for the success of any company.   Follow this link to read a brief overview of leveraging social media for business.

Architecture, engineering and construction firms are evolving to embrace the use of social media to present project information, demonstrate expertise, share industry news, and increase findability online with blogs and Facebook pages in addition to the more content-static websites.   At an SMPS marketing event this past winter, I got to hear keynote speaker Marc Kushner, founder of  Architizer,  talk about his new social networking community-based website designed to engage and link all contributors to building projects.  All project team members – architects, engineers, construction professionals, interns, consultants, building owners and users – can upload information and photos and add comments about the project to share their specific knowledge with the reader to create an inclusive, collaborative, holistic project profile.

Engaging readers  in current, fresh content  is the keystone feature of social media tools.  There’s a “Leave a Comment” link below – please feel free to leave a note!

Franny King
Director, Marketing and BizDev
Join me on LinkedIn

ICRI Philadelphia Facade Symposium

The Delaware Valley Chapter of the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI) presents a Philadelphia Facade Symposium on March 4, 2011 to be held at WHYY Broadcast Center in Philadelphia, PA. Vertical Access partner, Kelly Streeter, is a panel participant, along with Michael Luciani of Hill International, Inc, Carl Dress of Heritage Design Collaborative, a representative from the Philadelphia Department of License and Inspections, and Joe Gabarino of the Masonry Preservation Group. Preregister by Feb 24 on the event’s website at where you’ll also find more details.

APT Northeast Chapter 2011 Annual Meeting and Symposium: A Synopsis

The Association for Preservation Technology Northeast Chapter (APTNE) held its 2011 Annual Meeting and Symposium on February 4 in Boston. The meeting was well attended, with over 200 people braving the mid-winter weather to make it to the full-day event.

The theme of the symposium presentations was “The Use of Substitute Materials on Historic Preservation Projects.” Henry Moss introduced this topic in his excellent keynote talk, which raised thought-provoking questions about authenticity, transience and levels of substitution. Moss used examples from New England and the United Kingdom to illustrate a shift in thinking about replacing materials to replacing assemblies and the contributions of material sciences and building physics to the discussion of substitution.

Following the keynote presentation, two papers were given that presented the challenges and concerns in considering replacement materials from the perspective of local preservation planning commissions. Mary O’Neil, an Associate Planner with the City of Burlington, VT, and Catherine Albert, a recent graduate of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at Columbia University, presented case studies illustrating preservation issues related to replacement of siding and windows, respectively.

The next two presentations provided contrasting views on substitution, illustrating the importance of evaluating each potential treatment in light of the specific conditions, goals and needs of the project. Art Femenella’s case study of the restoration of a Lalique cast glass façade demonstrated why a substitution system was necessary in light of the design flaws of the original installation. The next presentation, on the repointing of historic brick masonry at Fort Jefferson, showed that after thorough analysis, numerous mock-ups and field applications of various mortar systems, the most appropriate replacement mortar was found to be the one closest to the original mortar.

The afternoon presentations reviewed a range of substitute materials that have been used to replace or in conjunction with historic masonry. John Fidler provided an update on his ongoing study of glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) substitute materials. Providing many examples of the use of GFRP in England, where it has been in use for 45 years, Fidler has drawn some conclusions after 30 years of observation. Based on visual assessment, painted GFRP adjacent to other materials that are painted may be acceptable, but other applications are typically undesirable. In addition, when considering the use of GFRP to replace historic masonry, other factors such as the mechanical and chemical properties must also be evaluated.

Michael Edison also took a historical view of replacement materials, demonstrating how composite patching mortars can be used as a substitute material for historic stone and terra cotta. As Edison showed in several case studies, cast-in-place composite repair mortars have a 30-year track record as a viable substitute material for replacement of masonry units.

Brent Gabby’s presentation on cementitious materials within historic masonry systems showed how a variety of substitute materials can be used as part of the structural system to help preserve historic buildings. Gabby used case studies to illustrate the use of poured-in-place concrete, pre-cast concrete, CMU, lightweight concrete panels and shotcrete. These materials can be creatively used as back-up, roof framing and to stabilize masonry so that the original or repaired masonry façade and architectural finishes are preserved.

Finally, Roy Ingraffia and Kyle Normandin introduced a restoration mortar that can be used to meet a wide range of masonry repair needs. Using marble repairs at the New York Public Library Steven Schwarzman Building and sandstone repairs at St. Mark’s Church in Philadelphia as case studies, the presenters showed how Lithos Arte can be trowel applied or cast in place and then sculpted and carved to create appropriate and compatible masonry repairs.

Overall, the symposium offered an interested selection of presentations, from the philosophical groundwork for substitution and preservation planning to replacement systems specific substitute materials. The lively questions and answer discussions after the sessions and during the breaks testifies to the success of the symposium.