An Old Project and a Missing Neighborhood

by Don Friedman on November 13, 2017

That’s the north ventilation tower of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, located on Battery Place in Manhattan. It’s basically an empty box, steel-framed and with a stone-face curtain wall. (It may or may not be the portal to a secret government agency.) You can’t see from this angle, but the tunnel approach is directly behind the building, well below street level as the cars descend to the tunnel proper.

The three plaques visible at the mid-height of the south facade weren’t originally part of the building. They were, along with a fourth plaque, part of the New York Coliseum, an exhibition and conference hall on Columbus Circle that was demolished after its role was taken by the Javitz Center. The Coliseum itself was ugly and forgettable but the plaques, by the sculptor Paul Manship, were worth salvaging. Eventually the MTA decided to place them on the tunnel’s ventilation tower; I worked on the team that designed new attachments for the several-tons-each art work.

Before the tunnel, the block between Washington and Greenwich Streets and between Battery Place and Morris Street was part of Little Syria. The south half of this mini-neighborhood was wiped out by the tunnel approach construction; the north half and Radio Row were wiped out by the World Trade Center construction. The neighborhood was doomed in the long term by the expansion of the financial district from the area around Wall Street and Broadway to the entire southern tip of Manhattan, but the tunnel killed it fast.

As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of lots in lower Manhattan are carrying their second, third, and sometimes fourth building. You can pick a site at random and the odds are good that there will be a story to tell.

Historic New Structural Detail

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, […]

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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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