15 Photos from 2015: Numbers 5 and 4

We’re counting down to the New Year by sharing 15 of our favorite photographs taken on site and during our travels throughout 2015.

#5 Cambridge, MA

5 Cambridge

A view of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Memorial Hall, Art Museum and other buildings

#4 Fire Island, NY

4 Fire Island

Looking west over Fire Island National Seashore and Robert Moses State Park

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15 Photos from 2015: Numbers 7 and 6

We’re counting down to the New Year by sharing 15 of our favorite photographs taken on site and during our travels throughout 2015.

#7 Concrete, WA

7 Washington State

This North Cascades town was named for the Portland Superior Cement plant, which supplied material for nearby dams and other projects

#6 New York State Pavilion, Queens, NY

6 Tent of Tomorrow

The Tent of Tomorrow, freshly painted

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15 Photos from 2015: Numbers 9 and 8

We’re counting down to the New Year by sharing 15 of our favorite photographs taken on site and during our travels throughout 2015.

#9 Hudson Valley

9 Hudson Valley

Looking up at a 1930s steel water tower

#8 Washington, DC

8 Washington, DC

Marcel Breuer’s 1968 headquarters for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building

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15 Photos from 2015: Numbers 11 and 10

We’re counting down to the New Year by sharing 15 of our favorite photographs taken on site and during our travels throughout 2015.

#11 Western New York bridges

11 Western NY bridges

Looking down from a pair of steel-arch highway bridges, with a third steel truss bridge in the background

#10 Washington, DC

10 Washington DC

A curious deer watches a VA technician on rope

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Exploring Beth Hamedrash Hagodol

Getting to see exclusive spaces is one of the perks of our work at Vertical Access. Last summer we were asked to join Robert Silman Associates and the New York Landmarks Conservancy to work inside a rarely-seen Lower East Side Landmark: Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, a historic synagogue and home to this country’s oldest Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation. Closed since 2007, the building has weathered storms, fire and global recession, and with a dedicated coalition of groups working for its preservation, we hope that many more people will soon be able to visit its remarkable interior.

From Baptist church to synagogue

The synagogue began its life as the Norfolk Street Baptist church in 1850, designed by an unknown architect in the prevailing Gothic Revival style. The expanding and upwardly-mobile Beth Hamedrash Hagodol congregation, founded in 1852, purchased the building in 1885 and modified it to meet the needs of Orthodox worship.

37. General view of the central nave from the east facade oculus

The congregation was unique in welcoming members from all countries at a time when New York’s Jewish synagogues typically served congregations hailing from the same town or region in Eastern Europe – a reflection of the localized settlement patterns of the city’s immigrant neighborhoods.

Historic designation

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was designated a New York City Landmark in 1967, and noted in the designation report “especially for the services it has rendered to the many orthodox Jews from eastern European countries who migrated to the United States during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries.”

By the time it was added to the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1999, however, the synagogue had long been subject to a combination of forces that are all-too-common among houses of worship throughout this country, including an aging, dwindling congregation and decades of deferred maintenance.

Time and disaster take their toll

The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have not been kind to the 160-year-old building. A 1997 storm blew out the two-story arched window on the street façade, leaving the building open to the elements for weeks until the New York Landmarks Conservancy stepped in with a grant for temporary repairs. Then, a fire in 2001 severely damaged the roof and plaster ceiling. With only 15 or 20 active worshippers in its congregation, the synagogue was closed in 2007.

In 2012 Beth Hamedrash Hagodol’s rabbi applied for a demolition permit under the economic hardship exception, which – very rarely and in extreme cases – grants financially-strapped owners permission to demolish landmarked buildings. Following outcry from neighbors and historians, the application was withdrawn in spring of last year.

See more photos of our investigation on Bowery Boogie

Saving a cultural landmark

In a demonstration of the cultural value of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, groups including the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Friends of the Lower East Side have been working to raise awareness about the building and to raise funds for its stabilization.  Last summer, the New York Landmarks Conservancy sponsored an engineering study, a first step in planning a sustainable future for the synagogue.

As part of the study, our team inspected and evaluated the synagogue’s roof structure. By using Industrial Rope Access to reach the space between the ceiling and roof, we were able to document the structural system and its condition.

We are happy to report that the engineering study showed the basic structure of the building to be sound, though there is extensive water damage and most of the interior plaster will likely need replacement. Beth Hamedrash Hagodol is an irreplaceable record of New York’s Jewish immigrant history – a landmark of the Lower East Side which we hope will be preserved and revitalized. We’ll keep you updated as the story unfolds.

For more, check out ongoing coverage of the synagogue on Curbed, Bowery Boogie, and the Wall Street Journal, or read the National Register nomination .

APT 2013 NYC – The Guastavino Vault Workshop

During the recent Association for Preservation Technology (APT) conference — APT NYC 2013 Preserving the Metropolis — Kent Diebolt, Kevin Dalton and Berta de Miguel, from Vertical Access, organized a Hands-on Construction of “Guastavino” Thin Tile Vaults workshop. Other faculty fellows worked in conjunction with VA members: Benjamín Ibarra, Assistant Professor of Architecure UT Austin, Mallory Taub, an Energy Specialist at Arup in San Francisco, David López López, Architect and PhD candidate in the Block Research Group at ETH Zurich, Switzerland and Marta Domènech Rodríguez, PhD candidate in the Architectural Design Department at Technical University of Catalonia (UPC), Spain. The team was assisted by Ken and David Follet, from Precon Logstrat, LLC, “consultants with tools”.vault-dwgs

The workshop consisted of building two small tiled vaults: a groin vault and a barrel vault with lunettes. The vaults, of approximately 6×6 feet were built with tiles measuring 7 3/8″ x 3 3/4″ x 5/8″ donated by Boston Valley Terracotta.

The venue for the event was the atelier of Ottavino Stone Corporation, kindly donated by that same corporation, which is celebrating their centennial this year. Additional funding came from the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology through APTI and Vertical Access LLC. We cannot thank our sponsors enough for their support!

The attendees were an interesting group of 21 people from different nationalities and backgrounds such as architects, material specialists, engineers, architectural conservators, preservationists and project managers from companies and organizations such as VanNostrad Architects, UNESCO, Consigli Construction, Superstructures, Built Environment Evolution, Washington National Cathedral, Williamsburg Preservation Tec, Murray Engineering, Alternativist/Urban Earth, Evergreene Architectural Arts, Old Structures Engineering, Bennett Preservation Engineering, Atkinson-Noland & Associates, FGMDA Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet & Associates, Goldsmith Borgal & Company Architects, Heritage Building Conservator, Robert Silman Associates, Building Conservation Associates and and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates.

The workshop lasted two full days. During the fist day, the forms for the arches were set in place, plumbed and fixed. Next, the tiles of the arches were set with plaster of Paris for the first layer, and mortar cement on the second and third layers. Once the arches were completed, the webs of the vaults started to close the vaults from the arches to the center.

The first layer was set with plaster of Paris due to the rapid setting time (10-15 seconds approximately). During the second day, once the first layer was finished, the attendees, divided in two teams, started and finished the second layer, set up with mortar cement, which confers strength to the structure.

By the end of the second day, everybody took turns standing on the vaults. We all learned a lot from each other and gained an appreciation for the skill that it took to build these full-scale vaults. Finally, and most importantly, we all had a wonderful time.IMGP9925


> Watch a video news story about Rafael Guastavino that includes time-lapse footage from this workshop and interviews with Berta de Miguel and Kent Diebolt. The piece was produced by RTVE, a public broadcasting station from Spain.

A portion of our annual contribution to 1% for the Planet helped support this event. Read a short post about how VA got involved with One Percent Print.

Return to the NJ State House Dome

VA returned to the New Jersey State House dome for a condition survey with H2L2 Architects and Preservation Design Partnership on a sunny, but cold, day in March – 17 years after our first inspection with Jan Hird Pokorny Associates prior to the restoration of the dome.

A Visit to Canning Studios

by Kelly Streeter

I had the opportunity to visit John Canning Painting, Plastering and Conservation Studios in Cheshire, CT last week. Bill Barry, John Riccio and I met to discuss the application and customization of the TPAS software to the types of plaster surveys they routinely do. While there, I was able to tour the studio and get a sneak peak at the murals they are designing and executing for the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, CT. What a treat.