Historic New Structural Detail

by Don Friedman on September 19, 2017

Even though construction is still in progress – note the blue tarps and the chain fall – that is a beautiful sight that very few people will ever see. That is the inside of a newly-constructed onion dome.

The old dome and cupola, which formed the steeple of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in
Elizabeth, New Jersey, was damaged in a wind storm in April last year. The church tower is brick, but the cupola and dome were wood and no longer in good condition. After an investigation and review of the various options, we ended up designing a replacement for the wood structure of the dome proper. The picture above shows all that beautiful new wood framing to create the onion-dome geometry. You can’t see the tie-downs which were our addition to the original design and will hopefully give Dome Version 2 a longer life than the original.

A problem we face again and again in church restoration projects is that the original structures of the long-span roofs and towers don’t meet current code. In general they have performed well (or at least well enough) but once they start to weather the problems quickly multiply. If the wood has rotted we can’t design a repair to be spliced in because the truss chords or spire ribs aren’t strong enough according to modern analysis. The connections, particularly those joints specific to large-timber construction such as birds-mouth connections, can’t be analyzed. We’re fine with leaving the old structures in place, but we can’t design repairs or alterations for something we can’t analyze. We usually end up simply reinforcing the existing wood to make it possible to work; at St. Vladimir’s the only real option was reconstruction. Our design followed the old as much as possible and the contractor, the Imhoff Company, did a nice job building the new dome.

Through The Net

July 2, 2017

I was up a scaffold last week and took this shot through the safety netting. We have four projects among the visible buildings, including the Langham.

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Folly Into Building

May 24, 2017

Artist’s representation: We are proud to have recently completed an investigation of structural conditions at Belvedere Castle for the Central Park Conservancy as the first phase of a restoration project. It’s been fun so far and promises to be more so as we get into the design phase. Belvedere presents a peculiar issue in conservation: […]

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A Worthy Program

April 7, 2017

I mentioned a while ago that a project we worked on – the Piros Residence – had won a Lucy Moses Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy. That’s the tooting-our-own-horn part of the story. The rest of the story is that the Conservancy helped the Piros family fix up the house. The Conservancy provides […]

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Bathing Steel

April 3, 2017

There was an article recently in the Brownstoner about a project to restore the last public bath to have opened in New York City, later known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Old Structures was brought in to assist in designing anchorage for the large, projecting cornice but ended up also designing supplemental steel at the perimeter of […]

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Leafy Projects

March 17, 2017

The martyr of the NYC preservation movement, Penn Station: As I mentioned last year, the holiday train show at the New York Botanic Garden is a must see. The trains are great, but even better, they run past models of New York buildings created almost entirely out of plant matter. A few buildings where we […]

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Scope Creep

February 14, 2017

I recently attended an informative presentation, by Shiroy Ranji of STV, on scope creep and how to avoid it during a SEAoNY seminar. There are a number of ways that a project’s scope of work can expand unexpectedly during construction. One category is particularly difficult to avoid when dealing with older buildings: unforeseen conditions. Underlying structural […]

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The Uptown Acropolis

January 6, 2017

Audubon Terrace, photo credit to NewYorkDolls: There is, by an accident of history and over-optimistic planning, a miniature acropolis at Broadway and 155th Street, called Audubon Terrace. Had New York developed as London did – a wide-spread low-rise city of roughly uniform density – Audubon Terrace might have become the true cultural center it was […]

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A Different Option

November 18, 2016

If you work on a lot of big apartment projects, as we do, you work on a lot of spiral* stairs. We’ve probably design twenty-five or thirty spiral stairs over the years. There are two design problems: (1) making a curved hole in the floor and (2) making the curved stair itself. The hole is […]

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For The Weekend: One More Time

November 6, 2016

Another picture of our completed project restoring the angels at the American Tract Society Building, 150 Nassau Street. This is a view looking north: the large building on the right is the Municipal Building, and the vertically-striped building in the background is the Tombs. The man inside the orb is working on the light fixture.

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