Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums
Article Archive
Building & Neighborhood Issues
Published: Autumn 2000


The Landmarks Conservancy is a private not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and historic districts in our city. The resources of the Conservancy include information on engineers and architects skilled in restoration and contractors adept at carrying out this delicate work. An invaluable resource for owners of buildings in historic districts and all others interested in the finest of restoration and maintenance for their buildings, the Conservancy administers revolving loan funds and can provide advice and technical assistance on restoration questions and the requirements of New York City Landmark law. The Conservancy can be reached by calling (212) 995-5260.

Since the spring of 1999, CNYC and the Landmarks Conservancy have joined to present a series of seminars for cooperatives and condominiums on building restoration and preservation. Alex Herrera, Director of Technical Services at the Conservancy, is the inspiration behind the series and the moderator of these informative seminars.

On Wednesday, September 20th, Mr. Herrera led a presentation entitled Best Practices in Managing Your Exterior Restoration Project. Architect Osvaldo Bertollini, of the firm of Ross & Bertolini, and Carl Culbreth, principal of the restoration contracting firm, Preserv, provided insightful guidelines for successful restoration, with slides clearly illustrating what can be encountered along the way. The essence of their message is that unlike cars or people, buildings, with proper maintenance and system upgrades, can live on and on.

An architect himself, Alex Herrera suggested that all buildings should have plans for ongoing maintenance of the building envelope that include attention to preserving decorative features. He noted that many buildings today have suffered long years of neglect and therefore require major restoration. This is where the major problems arise. But excellent architects and contractors can resolve these problems. Many innovative materials and procedures can help make the restoration a success.

Contractor Carl Culbreth described materials that can inexpensively reproduce architectural features lost to wind and weather. Many of these structural substitutes are much lighter in weight and easier to maintain than the originals, and skilled contractors can ensure that they appear identical to the original elements. His slide presentation was convincing and impressive.

The speakers stressed the importance of understanding what the issues are and clearly communicating to building residents what disruption is likely to occur. Generous allowance must be made for the unpredictability factor, since most problems are behind walls. Noting that buildings often object to recommendations of multiple probes prior to construction, the speakers pointed out that this careful preparation can help architects zero in on the hidden problems and enable them to better predict the full scope of work likely to be necessary. Nevertheless, Mr. Culbreth suggested that contracts include unit prices on items (e.g., lintels) which may or may not need replacement as work progresses.

Boards were advised to take a hands-on approach to the complexities of building restoration, hiring knowledgeable professionals to guide them, but also being sure to understand the professional's recommendations so that when the unforeseen occurs, the appropriate board committee will understand the problem and the suggested solution. Chief among these professionals is the architect, the board's bridge and translator to the understanding of their building and to the other professionals who will help keep it in peak condition.

Osvaldo Bertolini provided a wonderful outline of the difference between engineers and architects, a question raised regularly by CNYC members. Engineers are specialists while architects are generalists. The architect is oriented to a team approach, frequently bringing to the project additional resources such as consultants, engineers, historians and manufacturers of special materials to help resolve problems most efficiently.

Architects present the big picture, explained Mr. Bertolini. they offer an organized approach to the building categorizing the work to be done into required repairs, long-term maintenance and esthetic options. The available budget and the will of the client will dictate how much of the recommended work will be done.

Your architect can provide quality control before, during and after the construction process. Architects can help you by overseeing the bidding process, scheduling site visits to check on the work, providing periodic progress reports, and authorizing change orders and payments. The architect will help with the selection and review of materials and will interface with government agencies on your behalf, securing appropriate permits and completing all requisite filings. Working with your building over time, your architect develops a familiarity with its issues and becomes an increasingly valuable advisor, "a second set of eyes watching over the building."

Alex Herrera continues to help CNYC members understand building restoration issues. At CNYC's 20th Annual Housing Conference on November 12th, he will present a session on Living with Landmarking. For details, click here.


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