Falling Facades

NYC considers drones for building inspections after deadly facade collapse

New York lawmakers are proposing drone technology be used to investigate building violations and complaints. (Courtesy Robert/Flickr)

In the wake of architect Erica Tishman’s death, New York City officials and lawmakers are considering the use of drone technology for urgent building inspections. The incident, in which a piece of terra cotta fell from an aging facade and killed Tishman near Times Square, unnerved New York pedestrians and brought up major concerns about the poor conditions of local buildings.  

In the case of 729 7th Avenue, where the fatal accident occurred, owners Himmel + Meringoff Properties had still not installed scaffolding to address a violation issued back in April for hazardous conditions. The New York Post reported that thousands of other buildings have similar open violations issued by the Department of Buildings. 

Looking up at a terra cotta-clad tower in Manhattan

A falling piece of facade from 729 Seventh Avenue, a 17-story building, struck and killed architect Erica Tishman. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Brooklyn City Councilmember Justin Brannan announced he would propose a bill early this year that would require a drone inspection be deployed within 48 hours of a building complaint or DOB violation, according to Gothamist. While drone use has already been selectively introduced by the city’s police department, the move would be unprecedented for the DOB—especially since drones remain largely illegal in New York. 

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is backing Brannan’s idea, released a statement applauding the proposed measure. “The new legislation I am introducing with Councilmember Justin Brannan will make building inspections more cost-effective, saving building owners and the City millions of dollars, it will help us take down sidewalk sheds that often stay up for years, and most importantly, it will keep New Yorkers safe.”

While terra-cotta as a material has a history of falling off facades, property owners have also failed to be held accountable for open violations on their buildings. In the weeks following Tishman’s death, the DOB conducted inspections on 1,331 building facades across the city that had been cited for hazardous conditions. Of these buildings, 220 received Class 1 violations for reported facade issues that remained unaddressed. 

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