Facade Ordinance Inspection Updates

Building facade inspection programs are mandated by many cities in the United States to proactively identify unsafe conditions that may present a risk of causing injury or damaging property. While the specific requirements of each city’s ordinances differ, all regulations stipulate that inspections be performed at regular intervals.   Specific deadlines and updated requirements are approaching this year for the following municipalities:

  • The City of Philadelphia’s next scheduled inspection reports are due by June 30, 2017 (for buildings constructed between 1951 and 1970);
  • The City of Cincinnati is the newest city to pass a façade ordinance, requiring buildings constructed prior to January 1, 1920 to be inspected on or before July 1, 2017.
  • A new Department of Buildings requirement under New York City’s FISP (Fascade Inspection Safety Program) states that a Supplemental Report on Balconies and Railings needs to be filed for all Local Law 11 Cycle 7 Filings. Cycle 8 filings already incorporate the balcony evaluation requirement.

Vertical Access can assist with city-mandated inspections by using industrial rope access, proven to be an appropriate, safe, efficient and cost-effective option for many façade inspection projects.

More on facade ordinances

Mid-Continent Tower in Tulsa

Vertical Access was contracted to assist Stephen J. Kelley, Inc. and Heritage Architecture Studio LLC with the assessment of the exterior building materials on the Tower by performing a hands-on and close visual survey of the exterior façades using rope access.

The Mid-Continent Tower is comprised of two distinct buildings: the Cosden Building and the Tower Building. Constructed in 1917, the fifteen-story Cosden Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is an early concrete frame structure clad in cream-colored glazed terra cotta units. The Tower Building, constructed in 1984, is a thirty-six-story steel frame structure clad with a curtain wall of terra cotta/glass fiber reinforced concrete panels that mimics the design of the Cosden Building. It is cantilevered over the Cosden Building so that the two buildings appear to be one.

Photography by Stephen J. Kelley.

Project Highlight: 75 Livingston Street

Situated on a corner in downtown Brooklyn within the New York City designated Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, 75 Livingston Street is a 32-story steel-framed, masonry-clad residential building designed by architect Abraham J. Simberg.  It was completed in 1928 and was originally called the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Building.

Vertical Access was retained by FS Project Management to perform a hands-on investigation of the four exterior masonry façades from grade to the top of the building at the penthouse level to assist Howard L. Zimmerman Architects (HLZA) with the Façade Inspection Safety Program (Local Law 11) inspection of the building and with preparation of repair recommendations and documents. Vertical Access had previously performed the Cycle 5 Local Law inspection of 75 Livingston Street in 1999. New York City’s Facade Inspection Safety Program, like other city-mandated facade inspection ordinances and periodic inspections carried out by building owners on their own initiative, is an important means of maintaining our built environment.

At the top of this 430-foot pre-war skyscraper is a sheet metal-clad pyramidal roof and cupola. Numerous setbacks on the south and east facades are exceptional features, with the parapet at each setback distinguished by ornamental terra cotta, projecting finials, and decorative spandrels.

The lower three floors on the Livingston Street (south) and Court Street (east) façades have limestone masonry at the columns and door and window surrounds, with cast iron spandrel panels and steel windows.  Above the third floor, the exterior is clad in brick and terra cotta. The north and west façades are primarily brick with terra cotta ornament at the top of the building.

VA used industrial rope access for the condition assessment and documented representative and notable conditions observed by means of still photographs hyperlinked to annotated AutoCAD drawings, with quantities provided for each prioritized condition. Industrial rope access allowed four technicians to complete the comprehensive inspection of this monumental building in a matter of days, whereas other means of access would surely have taken weeks or even longer.

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

The Cathedral: The Next 100, or 5000, Years

A structure planned to “stand with practically no visible sign of change for 5,000 years.”  That assessment, by Perry Borchers, was published in the Ohio State Engineer journal in 1940, soon after west façade of The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine was completed and just before the entire length of the Cathedral was consecrated in 1941.[1]  In fact, much of the planned Cathedral structure had not yet been completed at that point, including the two towers on the west side, the north and south transepts and the spire above the crossing.  However, eight days after the Cathedral was opened for the first time from the main portal on the west to the end of the apse on the east, and almost fifty years after construction of the Cathedral began in 1892, the United States entered World War II and work on the Cathedral came to a halt.  Construction resumed in the 1970s, and in the 1980s about fifty feet of height was added to the south tower.

The Cathedral, situated in Morningside Heights in Manhattan on land acquired by the Episcopal Diocese in 1887, was originally designed by George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge in 1888.  Construction of the apse began in 1892 and the large central dome, constructed by the Guastavino Company, was completed in 1909: the largest dome ever built by the firm.  After Heins died, Ralph Adams Cram was hired in 1911 to replace LaFarge as the architect of the Cathedral.  Construction of the nave, which Cram designed in a Gothic revival style, began in 1916 with the first finish stone on the south façade laid in 1925.  Cram also designed the west façade of the Cathedral with its flanking towers and the gothic ornamentation for the original apse.  The exterior cladding of the nave and towers is granite, with limestone used in the interior, the tracery of the stained glass windows at the nave and clerestory, and for trim and figurative carvings at the west facade.

Although the Cathedral is by anyone’s estimation a grand and magnificent structure, Borchers’ prediction that it remain unchanged for 5,000 years was a bit of hyperbole.  Like any building, even one constructed by the finest craftsmen of the day using durable materials and proven engineering systems, the Cathedral is subject to the same deleterious effects of water, fire and earth movement as any other building.  In fact, all of these forces have affected the structure significantly over the past 100 years.

A structure such as the Cathedral requires constant maintenance, upkeep and attention.  Currently the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is undertaking a study of the entire structure.  The design team is led by structural engineer Robert Silman Associates and includes Building Conservation Associates and Vertical Access.  As part of the study, the team has been performing hands-on investigations of the exterior masonry, interior wall surfaces and ceiling; and evaluation of the condition of the exterior and interior materials and structure.  The information gained from this study will be used to prioritize repair projects and plan for future work on the Cathedral, so that it may retain its magnificence for the next 100, or even 5,000, years.

[1] Perry Borchers, “The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York,” Ohio State Engineer, vol. 23, no. 6 (May, 1940, 8-10).

U.S. Capitol Dome to Undergo $60 Million Restoration

The Capitol Dome Will Get A $60 Million Face-Lift, by Eyder Peralta, National Public Radio, October 22, 2013

The U.S. Capitol Dome is about to undergo a $60 million restoration. Construction is scheduled to begin in November and last for two years.

“From a distance the dome looks magnificent, thanks to the hard-work of our employees,” the Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers says in a statement. “On closer look, under the paint, age and weather have taken its toll and the AOC needs to make repairs to preserve the Dome.”

Ayers says this will be first time the dome will receive a complete makeover since the one it received in 1959 to 1960.

The kind of damage that plagues the Capitol Dome.

The dome was constructed of cast iron more than 150 years ago. As time went on, water infiltrated through pinholes in the Statue of Freedom and through cracks and open joints in the rest of structure, causing rust and claiming more than 100 decorative elements. Currently, the dome has more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies. These pictures give you an idea of the kind of damage we’re talking about.  *    READ FULL ARTICLE

* Photos in the Architect of the Capitol Flicker gallery are from a condition inspection report performed by Vertical Access. See project profile.

Scaffolding to Cover Capitol Dome, by Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News, October 22, 2013

20 seconds into the video, see footage of Vertical Access team on the dome.

Screen shot of NBC video coverage of U.S. Capitol Dome restoration project includes Vertical Access team performing inspection of conditions.

Screen shot of NBC video coverage of U.S. Capitol Dome restoration project includes Vertical Access team performing inspection of conditions.

Vertical Access Inspects Wyoming Capitol Dome

By Trevor Brown, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE — A team of specialized engineers and technicians dangled 140 feet from the ground Tuesday as they rappelled down the side of the State Capitol’s dome.

Equipped with tablets to record notes and take pictures, three workers* from the consulting firm of Vertical Access went inch by inch, collecting data to determine the dome’s condition and the potential need for repairs.

Suzanne Norton is project coordinator with the state’s Department of Administration and Information. She said the work is the most detailed assessment of the dome in the Capitol’s history.  READ MORE

*Evan Kopelson, Keith Luscinski, and Berta de Miguel Alcalá

The Old Post Office in Washington DC


The Old Post Office building in Washington, DC, constructed between 1892 and 1899, was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department.  Purpose-built to house the Post Office, it is considered the last significant building of the Romanesque Revival style constructed in Washington DC.  It was also the first building in the city to incorporate a steel frame to support the interior structures of the building while exterior granite (Vinalhaven, ME) is load-bearing and tapers from 5’ thick near the foundation to approximately 1’ thick at the eave of the mansard roof.

In the 1880s Congress approved the building of a new post office.  Planned to be a grand edifice to act as an anchor to revitalize the neighborhood between the Capitol and the White House, the construction dragged on for seven years.  By the time it was completed the Beaux Arts style of architecture had gained favor making the newly completed Post Office appear almost immediately outdated.  In fact, the new structure was derided in the New York Times as “a cross between a cathedral and a cotton mill”. The post office moved into the new headquarters when it was completed, but in 1914, the Mail Depot was moved to a larger building constructed next to Union Station, leaving the purpose built landmark underutilized.  Since the 1920s the massive structure has served as overflow space for various government agencies.

In the 1920s the building commission of the Treasury Department was actively developing the surrounding Federal Triangle complex and promoting the building’s demolition.  This act was only suspended by the deepening depression: the government could not afford to tear the building down.  Given its mixed use and orphan status with no government agency directly responsible for its upkeep, the Old Post Office slowly fell into disrepair.  In 1964 the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, organized by President John F. Kennedy, recommended that the building be demolished to make way for the completion of the Federal Triangle.  By the early 1970s, demolition permits were in place and the funds for the demolition were appropriated by Congress.

The building narrowly avoided the wrecking ball again when a preservation group led by Nancy Hanks, the then chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, prevailed upon Congress to reverse its decision.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, treated to an extensive renovation beginning in 1976 and officially renamed the Nancy Hanks Center in 1983.

In early 2012 The Old Post Office building was deemed surplus building stock by the General Services Administration, which entered into a long-term lease agreement with The Trump Organization, whose plan is to rehabilitate the building as the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Vertical Access worked with Robert Silman Associates for the Trump Organization to complete the due diligence survey in advance of the lease of the property.  In August 2012 a VA team completed a thorough exterior survey of the tower and areas of the main building.

Capitol Dome Is Imperiled by Cracks and a Partisan Rift – NYTimes.com

Inspection by Vertical Access in May 2010  (L. Sharrett/NY Times)

WASHINGTON — To the myriad indignities suffered by Congress, including stagnant legislation, partisan warfare and popularity on a par with petty criminals, add this: the Capitol’s roof is leaking, and there is no money to fix it.

The Capitol dome, the nation’s grandest symbol of federal authority, has been dinged by years of inclement weather, and its exterior is in need of repair.

The dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks. Water that has seeped in over the years has caused rusting on the ornamentation and staining on the interior of the Rotunda, just feet below the fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington, which is painted on the Rotunda’s canopy.  Continue reading article in New York Times