Vermiform Squared Off

by Don Friedman on June 27, 2017

If you have good eyesight, or if you click on the picture above to expand it, you’ll see three odd appendages running up the side of the building. They’re maybe two feet square in plan and go from about the fifth floor level all the way to the top. The two that flank the narrow light court in the center of the facade are straight; the one to the right is straight for most of its length but goes diagonal at the bottom.

The appendages are chimney extensions for two long-demolished buildings. The outlines of the missing buildings are visible as rough patches in the wall: the old buildings had party walls and the newer and taller building had to be built around and incorporating those walls. In other words, once again I’m pointing to building ghosts.

What do I mean by chimney extensions? Chimneys work best when they are free-standing, so that wind from any direction can help create draft to pull up smoke. At the same time, who wants to be anywhere near the soot and hot gas coming up out of a chimney? If you build a new building next to an existing chimney, the current New York City Building Code section 2113.1.6 requires you to extend that chimney up above your roof. In the 1922 NYC code, which is likely the one that was in force when this building was constructed, similar language was in section 392.9.

That code provision has been around for such a long time because it makes perfect sense: if you build a tall building that interferes with your neighbors’ safe use of their chimneys, you need to address the problem you’ve created. The gradual decline in the use of fireplace chimneys has reduced the number of extensions that theoretically need to be built at the same time that the construction of more tall buildings in more parts of the city has increased the number of tall-building-next-to-low-building conditions.

Regarding the post title: an official name for the appendix is the “vermiform appendix,” with the adjective meaning “wormlike.” In this case, the worms are awfully straight.

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