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

3D Laser Scanning Preserves National Historic Treasures

May 16, 2014
The National Park Service is collaborating with CyArk and DJS Associates to generate a 3D model of the Lincoln Memorial using laser scanning technology. The goal is to produce digital documentation to assist with future preservation work, and to allow visitors worldwide to virtually tour the memorial.  Vertical Access was asked to assist with the project in an area of the memorial where the location and operation of the scanning equipment presented a challenge to position.  Learn more.
Help Preserve the New York State Pavilion

CyArk and the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation & Training  want to digitally preserve the 1964-65 World’s Fair New York State Pavilion. Using high-speed, high-precision 3D laser scanners all resulting 3D data will be made freely available to the public.  Learn more on their Kickstarter site.


When the World Went to Queens: Part 1

May 16, 2014

By Kristen Olson


The Near Tomorrow


The Unisphere in 2011. Photo by Vertical Access.

We are now living in the future envisioned at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, which opened 50 years ago last week and attracted over 50 million visitors to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. With the theme “peace through understanding,” the fair promised a utopian, technologically-driven “near tomorrow.” For many fairgoers, especially those who were children when they attended, the playful, exuberant architecture had as much of an impact on their expectations for the future as did exhibits promising undersea colonies and driverless cars.


World’s Fair souvenir tin tray. Photo by Kristen Olson.

Despite plenty of criticism, the visiting public’s response to the fair was overwhelmingly positive. With the fair’s 50th anniversary, people across the country and across the globe have been sharing their World’s Fair memories. We’ve gathered here some memories of the fair from the Vertical Access family:

Evan’s father, Eric, was at the fair before it even opened. In 1963, he had a summer job with a surveying company inspecting construction work on many of the pavilions. One that Eric remembers was the Bell Telephone pavilion, which was designed to look like a giant telephone handset on two cradles.  He says that the contractors were working very quickly to meet their deadlines; at that time, the fair’s opening day was less than a year away.

Julie remembers being hungry and hot while attending the fair with her family at age 10, but also remembers the anticipation of waiting in line to see General Motors’ Futurama II exhibit and being amazed by the huge stainless steel Unisphere.

Franny’s most vivid memory is of standing on a “people mover” and slowly gliding past Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Our bookkeeper, Chris, went to the fair and, several years later, saw Led Zeppelin perform at the New York State Pavilion.



The Panorama of the City of New York as it appeared in 2007. This 1:1200 scale model of New York City was one of the most popular attractions at the fair. It is currently maintained in the collection of the Queens Museum. Photo by Kristen Olson.


For more World’s Fair memories, check out recent articles in Architectural Record, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Daily News.

Read Part 2 where we take a closer look at the New York State Pavilion, one of the fair’s most memorable architectural creations, and one of the few structures from the 1964-65 fair still standing in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

When the World Went to Queens: Part 2

May 16, 2014

By Kristen Olson


Showcasing New York State

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York City (or more accurately, the city’s capture and renaming by the British). In representing the fair’s host state, the New York State Pavilion would stand out as one of the most memorable pavilions, earning praise from architectural critics who dismissed much of the fair’s architecture.


The Tent of Tomorrow as it appeared in 2011. All photos by Vertical Access.

Designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster with structural engineer Lev Zetlin, the New York State Pavilion consisted of three components. The Tent of Tomorrow was an overt reference to a circus tent in the form of an elliptical, cable-suspended roof of colored plastic panels supported by concrete columns. Its roof was the largest of its kind in the world, and its floor was a huge terrazzo road map of New York State – purported to be the world’s largest map as well as the world’s largest terrazzo installation. Theaterama was a circular concrete theater designed to show films in 360-degrees. Completing the complex was a group of three connected Astro-View observation platforms, the tallest structure at the fair at over 200 feet.


The Astro-View Towers and Tent of Tomorrow.

After the Fair

The New York State Pavilion was one of the few structures to remain as part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park after the fair closed. Theaterama continued to operate after being converted to a live event space, and it was renamed the Queens Theatre in the Park following a 1993 rehabilitation guided by Philip Johnson. The Tent of Tomorrow was used as a roller skating rink and concert venue until the roof panels were removed in the 1970s. The Astro-View Towers were retained, but were not made accessible to the public after the fair.


The underside of the lowest of the three platforms, which housed a snack bar during the fair.

Now, after being abandoned for decades, the Tent and the Towers are in need of repair. A coalition of dedicated preservationists has built broad public support for the pavilion’s rehabilitation, with inclusion on the World Monuments Fund’s annual Watch List of the World’s 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2008, and listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The pavilion is also on the U.S. Register of the International Committee for the Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites, and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO). Grassroots organizations promoting the preservation and reuse of the Pavilion include People for the Pavilion, and the New York State Pavilion Paint Project.


The three observation towers as seen from below.

Increased attention from the fair’s 50th anniversary has bolstered preservationists’ efforts. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the pavilion a National Treasure  on the 50th anniversary of the fair’s opening. This program brings attention to culturally-important landmarks that are threatened with deterioration and demolition, helping to catalyze public support and funding for their rehabilitation. On the same day, the Tent of Tomorrow was opened to the public for a few hours – for the first time in almost thirty years – with thousands lining up for a chance to don a hard hat and spend a few minutes inside the pavilion. Most significantly, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz supports rehabilitating the structures, and recently formed a task force to develop rehabilitation and reuse plans with guidance from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

World’s Fair Events

The Queens Theatre is currently hosting exhibits and events celebrating the fair’s 50th anniversary, including a depiction of fair buildings titled The World’s Fair in Legos. For more anniversary events, check out See striking before and after photos of the pavilion at the AIA’s Architect magazine blog.

Vertical Access works on the Astro-View towers in 2011. The tallest platform, at over 200 feet, provided panoramic views from two decks.

Vertical Access first performed work at the New York State Pavilion in 2006, and our team has returned several times to assist with existing condition surveys and lighting replacement, in collaboration with The Sparks Electric Company, RTKL Associates, Acuren, and Robert Silman Associates. The Pavilion is owned by the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation. For more information, see our project profiles for the Tent of Tomorrow and the Observation Towers.

Irondequoit Bay Bridge in Winter

May 9, 2014
Irondequoit Bay Bridge, Monroe County, NY

Irondequoit Bay Bridge, Monroe County, NY

Vertical Access winter projects are often trying. The days are short, and the freezing cold weather conditions mean reduced dexterity and poor battery life in our tablets and cameras – all combining to increase the difficulty of a project that might otherwise be pleasant in the spring or autumn. Even compared to most winter weather projects, the Irondequoit Bay Bridge project was extreme.

For four weeks in late February and March, we worked over the solidly-frozen Irondequoit Bay of Lake Ontario. While fishermen below peered through holes in the ice, engineers from DiDonato Associates inspected tP1150600he upper areas of the bridge from under-bridge inspection units (UBIU) and we used other methods to move along thousands of feet of steel I-beams at the lower portion of the bridge. Most mornings we were greeted with sub-zero temperatures. One morning we sat in our truck, waiting for the wind chill to climb above -20°F. It never did.

Working on the Irondequoit Bay Bridge was challenging for reasons other than the record-breaking cold weather. At 2,375 feet long, we spent most of our time moving horizontally along the length of the bridge. It’s natural to use ropes as a means to move vertically. Even diagonal movement can be accomplished with efficiency using rope access. But using rope systems to move purely horizontally has its limitations. Second to the cold, our biggest challenge was planning the most efficient access system for each section of the bridge. At various locations on the bridge, we used one of three access and fall protection techniques.

Most of our time on the bridge was spent “beam scooting,”  as evidenced by the holes in the seats of our coveralls. On horizontal I-beams, we could sit comfortably on the top flange of the beam and scoot around as needed. With this access method, we used conventional fall protection methods with a shock absorbing lanyard connected to a beam clamp anchor on the beam’s flange.

To access the underside of the beams, the much more strenuous “beam rolling” technique was employed. Hanging from two or three beam clamp anchors, we would shimmy along the bottom flange of the beam. Beam rolling is tiring, because of its constant, free-hanging nature.

P1060326In the arched spans of the bridge, some of the I-beams were too steep to scoot or roll along safely. For these locations, we used the typical rope access “rope-to-rope” maneuver to traverse along the I-beams. Suspended from ropes on overhead beams, we didn’t need to balance on the underfoot beams, but rather tip-toed along them.

With our three access systems well practiced, we were able to speedily move around the bridge trusses. During the few above-freezing site days that we enjoyed, it was clear that the biggest contributor to our efficiency was warm weather. With less bulky clothing and more manual dexterity, we seemed to zip along. We hope to someday return to the Irondequoit Bay Bridge in the summer and enjoy working over an unfrozen bay.

All photos by Vertical Access.

Architectural Ceramics in the 21st Century

March 31, 2014

By Kristen Olson

On March 22 and 23, I had the pleasure of attending Architectural Ceramics in the 21st Century: Design & Preservation of Contemporary & Historic Architecture, a conference sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects Historic Resources Committee, the MIT Department of Architecture – Building Technology Program, and Technology & Conservation Magazine. Joining me was Berta de Miguel, Vertical Access’ New York City Branch Manager. We heard over two dozen presentations, seemingly covering every aspect of architectural ceramics history, material properties, production, modes of failure, and conservation. Speakers included architects, conservators, historians, materials scientists, engineers, manufacturers, and even a Harvard physicist!

While the main title of the conference suggests a focus on new and innovative applications for architectural ceramics, there was plenty of discussion of the material’s historical development and on approaches to preservation.

Here are some highlights and takeaways from the weekend.


Ishtar Gate, Babylon, ca. 580 BC

1. Ceramics have been used in architecture for a very long time. This image of the Ishtar Gate appeared in several of the presentations to demonstrate the astonishing durability of some ancient ceramics.


Encaustic floor tiles at Cleeve Abbey, Somerset, England, ca. 1250

2. There’s a lot more to architectural ceramics than terra cotta facades! “Architectural ceramics” encompasses roofing tile, structural terra cotta, nonstructural terra cotta cladding, floor tile, ceiling and wall tile, glazed brick, porcelain enameled surfaces, and superthick terra cotta pavers. New large-format, superthin ceramic panels are so thin that they can be installed over curved surfaces.


Coade Stone Lion, Westminster Bridge, London, 1837

3. We tend to think of the nineteenth century as the beginning of the revival of architectural terra cotta in the modern era, but Coade’s Artificial Stone Manufactory, under the ownership of Eleanor Coade, was producing a ceramic artificial stone as early as early as 1769. “Coade stone” was used for sculptures and architectural ornament, and proved to be remarkably durable.


Shepard Hall, City College of New York, designed by George B. Post, 1906

4. Terra cotta facades of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often fraught with problems, including manufacturing defects, lack of waterproofing, poor detailing, and careless installation. The restoration of Shepard Hall at City College of New York by Robert Silman Associates and Stein White Nelligan Architects removed and replaced 65,000 pieces of deteriorated terra cotta.


Holburne Museum addition, Bath, England, designed by Eric Parry, 2011

5. Modern architectural ceramic products are of a much better quality than their counterparts of 100 years ago, and process improvements have reduced the environmental impact of their manufacture. But more information is needed about the long-term effects of different cleaning methods and coating products, and there are no published standards for terra cotta installation.


Guaranty Building, Buffalo, NY, designed by Adler & Sullivan, 1896

6. With a greater understanding of terra cotta’s materiality and how terra cotta systems perform, historic terra cotta facades are being successfully restored.


Federal Building and Post Office, Brooklyn, NY, 1891 (Mifflin Bell and William Freret) and 1933 (James Wetmore)

7. Terra cotta often masquerades as stone. The terra cotta cladding of the 1933 addition to the U.S. Post office in Brooklyn (right) was glazed to match the granite walls of the original 1891 wing (left).


Casa Batllo, Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi, 1904

8. Architectural ceramics are also celebrated as a unique material with a natural affinity for colorful expression.


Ceramic tile mosaic at the Darb-e Imam shrine, Isfahan, Iran, ca. 1453

9. Peter Lu, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Physics at Harvard, demonstrated that medieval Islamic architects were able to create non-repeating tile patterns with fivefold rotational symmetry – a feat not achieved by western mathematicians for another five hundred years. These patterns, created using girih tiles, were executed in ceramic tile mosaic and other media beginning in the thirteenth century.

10. Continuing on the mosaic theme were videos on the excavation of the Lod Mosaic and the construction of the Moroccan Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Guastavino tile vaults in the crypt chapel of the Church of the Intercession, designed by Bertram Goodhue, 1915

Guastavino tile vaults in the crypt chapel of the Church of the Intercession, designed by Bertram Goodhue, 1915

11. Of course, a conference on architectural ceramics wouldn’t be complete without some Guastavino! MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering John Ochsendorf gave an overview of the Guastavino family’s innovations in ceramic technology and identified preservation challenges.

It was an action-packed couple of days, and we’re looking forward to the next conference in this series!


Guaranty Building and Church of the Intercession photos by Kristen Olson. All other photos via Wikimedia Commons.



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