New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Pandemic Pause

During the coronavirus pandemic, all non-emergency jobs have been pretty much been shut down citywide. How have you and your architecture firm been able to keep yourselves occupied?

It's a funny time. We can't do any actual construction, or very, very little construction, but we can still do a lot of the groundwork necessary for getting ready for construction when we're allowed to actually start fixing buildings again. We've been doing quite a bit of that.


Any special kind of prep work you're doing?

I’m thinking about a great project, the old St. George Hotel complex in Brooklyn Heights. We’ve worked on the buildings for many, many years, but it's time to do a group of roof replacements there. Not very exciting work, but good work. There are five roofs, and we were working on the drawings for that when the whole pandemic appeared, and we realized we couldn't do some of the things we normally do in terms of bidding the project. But we have some very smart young people who worked around that. What we did was, we actually conducted a virtual walkthrough.


A virtual walkthrough? How does that work?

In normal times, if we had a complicated project and we wanted to show the contractors the site, make sure they understood the difficulty of the work, we would make them come to a meeting where we all get together and we walk through the various parts of the site. We answer questions, we show them, "This is how hard it is to get something up to this roof. This is the way that you can get in or out of the building. This is how big the roof is."

Obviously, we give them our drawings, but there's really no substitute for being there. This time we worked with our young staff member, Emily Barr, and the super of the building, a wonderful guy, Vlad. We arranged to do a virtual walkthrough with Zoom, and Emily managed to make it so that we could all see what was on the super's cellphone camera as he walked around from roof to roof. And all the contractors – who would normally be standing on the roof ignoring each other, because they're all competitors – they were sitting in their cars or their offices or their living rooms. It worked out really, really well.


This was in real time?

That's right. If someone had something they wanted him to point his camera at, they could simply make that request, and he was able to do that. He turned out to be a pretty good cinematographer. These are not roofs that are easily visible from the street. We wanted to make sure that the contractors understood what the logistics of each one was, and it worked out really well. In fact, we got the bids back, and the range of bids is really quite tight, within about 10%, which is pretty good for a large roof project. That weird system worked.

I think what we're seeing is that we can do a lot during the pandemic – we can draw buildings, we can do some measuring of buildings, we can do virtual walkthroughs. This isn't a bad time to do preparatory work and do the architecture so that when we can start swinging hammers again, we can get back in business and really start fixing buildings.


People are having to do a lot of things virtually, including this interview. Do you think the business will change fundamentally after this is over? Or is there still no substitute for getting up on that roof, for hitting that wall, for touching that ceiling?

It's a good question. I don't know if it'll change permanently. There are some things that you can do remotely, and there are other things where you physically have to be there to understand. There's never going to be a substitute for hitting a piece of terra cotta with a hammer and sound-testing it. There's never going to be a substitute for actually seeing the physical nature of the buildings that we work on.

But there's still a lot we can do during the pandemic, and we're finding that we're asking our clients to do a little more, too. We used to have everything nicely set up for them, and we'd be able to get all sorts of signatures and things, and we could take care of it all. Now, occasionally, we have to ask them to just put something in the mail, and actually it's been working quite well. People have been rising to the situation.

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