New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

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BUILDING OPERATIONS

HOW NYC CO-OP AND CONDOS OPERATE

City Council Speaker Calls for Probe of Lethal Facade Failure

Times Square, Manhattan

FISP, Local Law 11, facade repairs, terra cotta, fatal accident, co-ops, condos, Department of Buildings.

Terra cotta decorations (top) on the facade of 729 Seventh Avenue (image via Google Maps).

Dec. 23, 2019

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is calling for an investigation into the death of prominent architect Erica Tishman, who was killed last Tuesday by a chunk of decorative terra cotta that fell from a building near Times Square. Outrage over Tishman’s death has been amplified by the fact that the building’s owner had been cited last year for dangerous facade conditions that “must be corrected immediately.” The building’s owner, Hillman + Meringoff Properties, paid a $1,250 fine in April but did not make repairs or erect the required sidewalk shed

“We need a full investigation into how this happened, and all those responsible need to be held accountable,” Johnson tells the New York Post. “We need to hear loud and clear from the Department of Buildings what they are doing in terms of enforcement to ensure that New Yorkers do not have to fear death from above due to crumbling and mismanaged buildings.”

Tishman, 60, was walking on 49th Street near Seventh Avenue around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday when she was struck by a piece of decorative terra cotta that authorities said fell from atop a high-rise at 729 Seventh Avenue She was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Terra cotta, clay that’s shaped in a mold and fired in a kiln, became a popular decorative material with New York City builders in the late 19th century. After World War I, instead of embedding the terra cotta into the building’s masonry, many builders attached it to the building with metal anchors, which can corrode and fail over time. 

The city’s current Facade Inspection and Safety Program – which evolved from rules enacted after a piece of falling terra cotta killed a Barnard College student in 1979 – requires owners of buildings taller than six stories to inspect and repair their facades every five years. Co-op and condo boards in buildings with terra cotta are advised to exercise heightened diligence. 

Dan Allen, a partner at CTA Architects and an authority on terra cotta, urges boards that have doubts about their terra cotta’s integrity to hire a boom truck so trained professionals can inspect the terra cotta by hand. If anything on the facade is unstable, Allen advises boards to erect a sidewalk shed immediately.

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