Voice of America Profiles Vertical Access and the Use of Rope Access for Building Inspections

August 21, 2014

Company Gets Up Close and Personal with Skyscrapers

by Bernard Slushman, August 20, 2014

Historic landmark buildings, museums, the United States Capitol – all seen from top to bottom just inches from one’s face.  To get there you have to be an engineer, an archaeologist, and part-daredevil. It may look like fun, but this is serious business. One team from the company “Vertical Access” is preparing to survey the exterior of a 37-story Wall Street building. Literally climbing the walls is the cheapest way for engineers and architects to monitor a building’s rehabilitation and upkeep.

Watch Video and Read Full Article Here


The Quarterly – August 2014

August 12, 2014

Check out our August 2014 Quarterly newsletter.


Can you identify this building? – Series No. 1

August 11, 2014

Test your knowledge of historic and iconic buildings in the U.S. (and beyond!) in this series of “guess the building” blog posts.

Series No. 1: A Neoclassical “Temple of Liberty”

This iconic building has undergone several expansion campaigns since construction first began in the eighteenth century. It now contains over 600 rooms totaling 1.5 million square feet of space, and it is visited by millions of people annually. Where is this remarkable building? Scroll down for the answer.


Plate at Statue Col. 2 42-183-1


Answer:  The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Built in stages under the supervision of a half-dozen architects, the Capitol is an instantly-recognizable symbol of national identity. The massive cast-iron dome was surveyed by Vertical Access in 2007 and 2010, and is currently undergoing the first major restoration in over 50 years. Click here for more information about the Capitol and the dome restoration.


U.S. Capitol photo by Jon Reis Photography.

Don’t miss another architectural challenge: subscribe to our blog by signing up with your email address in the sidebar. Click here to see all of the posts in this series.

Photos by Vertical Access except where noted.

“Capitol” Projects

August 11, 2014

Capitols are among our favorite types of buildings to work on, and since our first investigation of the Massachusetts State House twenty years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of visiting ten of them – eight state capitols in addition to the U.S. Capitol and Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building. Earlier this month, Vertical Access returned to the Michigan State Capitol, where we first worked in 2005 with Quinn Evans Architects and The Christman Company.


Kent inspects the drum of the Michigan State Capitol in 2005.

The last major restoration of Michigan’s capitol was completed in 1992, and the purpose of our 2005 visit was to see how the paint coatings and materials were holding up at the drum, dome and lantern. Nine years later, with over twenty years elapsed since the 1992 restoration, we once again made the trip to Lansing, Michigan to inspect the dome. This time, there were also reports of water infiltration. Returning with the same project team, technicians Evan Kopelson and Keith Luscinski surveyed the dome, drum and lantern using TPAS™ (Tablet PC Annotation System) to document existing conditions for an upcoming repair project.

Do all of the state capitols have domes?

All but twelve of the fifty state capitols have an exterior dome (original plans for both the Ohio and New York State Capitols included domes that were never built). Many early state capitol buildings in the United States were topped with domes inspired by examples from Europe and ancient Rome. The U.S. Capitol dome, completed in 1866, set the standard for the state capitol domes that would follow. Most of the current state capitols were built after 1866, and the national capitol’s massive cast-iron dome had a strong influence on many of them.

Access challenges

It can be difficult to gain hands-on access to all of those domes and cupolas. Fixed ladders, access hatches, and windows usually provide a way to reach the exterior of a dome lantern or cupola, where we can set up anchors for rope access drops. But some buildings have no access systems in place, like the Wyoming State Capitol, where we hauled a heavy 40-foot ladder into the dome in order to climb to the top. Even with these challenges, using industrial rope access for domes, cupolas, and towers is fast, efficient, and economical compared to other means of access.

NJ before and after

The New Jersey State House before restoration (left, during VA’s 1996 investigation) and after restoration (right, during our 2013 visit).

Capital projects for capitol buildings

Monumental public buildings often have monumental price tags for restoration, with deferred maintenance being a major cost driver. Some of the challenges for building professionals working on state capitols include ever-changing occupant needs, increased standards for safety and security, accessibility, energy efficiency, and technology upgrades. Facilities maintenance was put on the back burner during the Great Recession, but many states are now moving ahead with repair and restoration projects. State capitols in the news for recent, ongoing, or planned repair and restoration campaigns include Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, OregonSouth Dakota, and the U.S. Capitol.


A few of the conditions we’ve documented on capitol buildings.

Vertical Access’ “capitol” projects at a glance


Inspecting the U.S. Capitol dome. Photo by Jon Reis Photography.

United States Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1793 (William Thornton, Stephen Hallet), 1795-98 (George Hadfield), 1798-1802 (James Hoban), 1803-1818 (Benjamin Henry Latrobe), 1818-1826 (Charles Bulfinch), 1850-68 (Thomas U. Walter, Montgomery C. Meigs)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron

Scope of work: VA conducted a hands-on inspection of all of the cast iron dome’s exterior from the base of the Statue of Freedom to the peristyle column capitals.

Project team: Office of the Architect of the Capitol


The Michigan State Capitol in 2005.

Michigan State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1872-1878 (Elijah Myers)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron drum and sheet metal-clad dome, lantern and finial

Scope of work: VA inspected materials and paint finishes at the drum, dome, lantern and finial.

Project team: Quinn Evans Architects, The Christman Company




Inspecting the New Jersey State House in 1996.

New Jersey State House

Dates and Architects: 1792 (Jonathon Doane), 1845 (John Notman), 1871 (Samuel Sloane), 1889 (dome, Lewis Broome)

Landmark Status: Contributing resource in a National Register Historic District

Materials: Cast iron drum and lantern and gilded copper dome.

Scope of work: VA coordinated site investigations and safe access for a comprehensive restoration completed in 1999. Our 2013 investigation included ultrasonic testing, paint adhesion testing, and fiber-optic investigation with live-feed video.

Project team: (2013) Preservation Design Partnership, H2L2 Architects, Building Conservation AssociatesStephen McLaughlin Roofing Consulting (1996) Jan Hird Pokorny Architects & Planners, Robert Silman Associates, Vulcan Supply, Gold Leaf Studios, Preservation Architecture, Mazia/Tech-Com, Matthew J. Mosca, McKernan Satterlee Associates, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities



Documenting the roof trusses of the New York State Capitol.

New York State Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1867-1875 (Thomas Fuller), 1875-1883 (Leopold Eidlitz, Henry Hobson Richardson), 1883-1899 (Isaac G. Perry)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Iron roof trusses, iron and glass skylights

Scope of work: VA surveyed the trusses supporting the massive roofs, performed water testing and fiber-optic investigation, and provided client access to skylights.

Project team: (2003-2004) Robert Silman Associates, (2006) Simpson Gumpertz & Heger




Inspecting the gilded copper dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Massachusetts State House

Dates and Architects: 1795-1798 (Charles Bulfinch and Charles Brigham), 1917 (Sturgis, Chapman & Andrews)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Sheet copper

Scope of work: VA surveyed the dome, which was gilded in 1874 and had been painted many times since then. The dome was restored and re-gilded following VA’s investigation.

Project team: Goody, Clancy & Associates; Gold Leaf Studios




Keith inspects the Wyoming State Capitol.

Wyoming State Capitol

Dates and Architects: 1886-1917 (David W. Gibbs, William DuBois)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Cast iron, galvanized sheet metal, sheet lead, and gilded copper

Scope of work: VA conducted a 100% hands-on survey of the drum, dome, and lantern exterior, characterized the materials used at various locations, assessed the condition of paint coatings (including adhesion testing and removal of samples), and identified prior painting campaigns.

Project team: HDR Architecture, Preservation Design Partnership, Robert Silman Associates, GB Geotechnics USA


WV courtesy SHCA

Investigating the gilded dome of the West Virginia State Capitol. Photo by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects.

West Virginia State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1932 (Cass Gilbert)

Landmark Status: Contributing resource in a National Register Historic District

Materials: Gilded sheet copper and lead

Scope of work: VA performed an exterior condition survey of the dome and cupola.

Project team: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects



The interior rotunda dome of the Virginia State Capitol.

Virginia State Capitol

Date and Architects: 1785 (Thomas Jefferson, Charles-Louis Clerisseau)

Landmark Status: National Historic Landmark

Materials: Plaster, wood

Scope of work: VA provided access consulting for interior lighting of the capitol’s rotunda.

Project team: Hillier Architecture



Checking out the pediment sculpture at the Kentucky State Capitol.





Kentucky State Capitol

Date and Architect: 1905-1909 (Frank Mills Andrews)

Landmark Status: National Register of Historic Places

Materials: Limestone and granite

Scope of work: VA provided access and assisted in performing an exterior condition survey.

Project team: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.


Kelly inspects the Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building.

Newfoundland and Labrador Confederation Building 

Date and Architects: 1960 (Lawson, Betts, and Cash, with A.J.C. Paine)

Materials: Limestone and brick

Scope of work: VA conducted a hands-on survey of the limestone masonry, hammer-sounding each unit, and used non-destructive evaluation to identify blind delamination within limestone units.

Project team: Jokinen Engineering Services






This video from the Architect of the Capitol about the U.S. Capitol dome restoration includes photographs from VA’s condition survey.


All photographs by Vertical Access except where noted otherwise 

SPRAT 2014 Summer Standards Meeting

August 11, 2014

At the end of July, Keith Luscinski attended the SPRAT 2014 Summer Standards Meeting in Denver, Colorado.  Each year, SPRAT holds two large gatherings.  The annual conference, which is held during the winter and draws many attendees, includes technical presentations and meetings of all the SPRAT committees.   The mid-year Summer Standards Meeting, however, draws a small crowd of representatives from the rope access industry that are passionate about keeping SPRAT’s standards current and relevant.

The Standards Committee is continually working to update SPRAT’s Safe Practices for Rope Access Work and Certification Requirements for Rope Access Work documents.  Other works in progress include the development of a rope access company accreditation system and the publication of documents that address rope access practices for specific industries.

During the meeting, Keith was also appointed to the chair position of the Research Grant Committee.  As the new chair, he is working to develop a grant application process, whereby SPRAT members can apply for research funding.  By providing research funding, SPRAT’s goal is to drive innovation in the rope access community.  The committee hopes to increase the knowledge of the entire SPRAT body by proposing that grant recipients present their findings at each annual conference.

Stay tuned to stay up to date on SPRAT’s activities!

Joe and Kristen Complete 16-Hour Suspended Scaffold Training in NYC

July 23, 2014

Earlier this month, Vertical Access technicians Joe Haun and Kristen Olson attended a 16-Hour Suspended Scaffold User Course at TSC Training Academy in Long Island City, Queens. Completion of the course is required for anyone working on a suspended scaffold or performing industrial rope access work in New York City. (Access the NYC DOB Industrial Rope Access Fact Sheet here)

Suspended scaffolds, also called swing stages, are work positioning platforms that hang from overhead supports. They are used by window washers, façade inspectors, and people performing work of all types on tall buildings and other structures.

Over the two-day training course, Joe and Kristen learned about the regulations governing the use of suspended scaffolds in New York City, the components of a suspended scaffold system, and how to inspect equipment and identify hazards. Hands-on portions of the course included knot tying, assembling wire rope terminations, and raising and lowering a two-person motorized suspended scaffold.

Using suspended scaffolds requires safety procedures similar to those used in industrial rope access, including daily inspections of equipment, careful selection of tieback and lifeline anchors, and generous safety factors for all components of the system. As with rope access systems, workers on suspended scaffolds must use a fall arrest system including a backup or safety line attached to a full body harness. And, suspended scaffold users should be able to visually inspect the entire scaffold system and identify potential hazards, even if the rigging was performed by another worker.


On the Ropes: Seeing New York City Up Close

July 22, 2014


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