Posts tagged with "Fires":

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Are design professionals liable for failing to anticipate the effects of climate change?

We do not need more vivid reminders that extreme weather events have the potential to cause appalling loss of life and tremendous property damage. The deadly fires that burned through California in November 2018 followed hard on the heels of a series of hurricanes and floods that wreaked terrible human and economic damage from New York to Houston and Puerto Rico. We are becoming increasingly confident that these extreme events are caused by climate change or, at any rate, that climate change makes them significantly more likely. Recently, the Fourth National Climate Assessment warned that climate change will cost the United States economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century. Increasingly, stakeholders in the construction process are recognizing that buildings need to be designed to withstand the climate conditions of tomorrow as well as today. Naturally, this leads to the question of whether there will be a legal liability when design professionals fail to anticipate the conditions brought about by climate change. There are several avenues by which a design professional might be held liable for failure to adapt to climate change. This article focuses on torts and tort-like duties, which represent a significant risk for design professionals. There are other sources of liability, though. Contracts, statutes, and regulations may all impose particular requirements on architects and engineers. Representations that a project complies with certain standards might also generate litigation. For example, in the wake of the recent California wildfires, the state’s largest utility company was sued by shareholders alleging that it was liable to its shareholders for failing to prevent the fires. Tort law is the body of law that governs our duties to others and the damages that may be due if those duties are violated. It is tort law that generally governs lawsuits over medical malpractice, for example, the injured party claims that they should be compensated because the medical professional’s actions fell below an acceptable standard of care and caused their injury. Under tort law, the design professional owes a duty toward those who could foreseeably be impacted by his or her actions—potentially extending beyond those to whom design professional have contractual duties (such as project owners) to include others, such as users or neighbors. Generally, the duty extends only to those who suffer physical injury to person or property—a tenant whose possessions are damaged by floodwater might have a claim against the design professional; the store across the road that loses business due to a building closure very likely does not.

Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace.

Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace. An Illinois insurer recently filed (and then dropped) lawsuits alleging that various state municipalities were responsible for payouts because their stormwater management plans did not anticipate increased rainfall that caused flooding. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plaintiffs argued, with some success, that it was foreseeable to the US Army Corps of Engineers that a navigation channel would change the local microclimate in ways that exacerbated hurricane damage (St. Bernard Par. Gov't v. United States, 121 Fed. Cl. 687, 721 (2015), rev'd on other grounds, 887 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2018), petition for cert. filed, No. 18-359 (Sept. 9, 2018). Tort-like duties may arise in other contexts. Contracts might impose tort-like duties upon design professionals. For example, an architect whose contract specifies a useful life for a building might have a duty to anticipate the effects of climate change during that timeframe. Similarly, statutes can impose tort-like duties and may even be enforceable by private plaintiffs—a not-for-profit was recently found to have the standing to sue an oil company over allegations that its vulnerability to flooding made it incompatible with “good engineering practices” under the Clean Water Act. So, what is the standard of care? Simply put, design professionals have a duty to exercise the care of a reasonable practitioner in the location. Unfortunately, complying with this simple standard can be tricky, and the door is often open for someone to argue after a problem develops that the architect or engineer did not exercise the required level of care. The best way to minimize the chances of that door being opened is to pay careful attention to local best practices.

Compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard.

Building codes are one potential pitfall. While failure to comply with local building codes can lead to a finding of a per se (i.e., automatic) violation of the design professional’s duty, compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard. Design professionals would be well-advised to be aware when local codes are outdated or backward-looking. For example, most states’ building codes do not account for sea-level rise. Similarly, relying on locally available climate data or projections may not be enough to protect the design professional from liability. Today, an architect in New York would have access to well-founded floodplain maps that take into account the potential impacts of climate change. However, this was not always the case. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, many communities’ FEMA maps dated back to 1983. In this situation, it would be more difficult for a design professional to claim that reliance on official floodplain data was reasonable. And this is a significant problem—a 2017 government audit found that 58 percent of FEMA floodplain maps nationally were out-of-date. Further, although New York City benefits from an additional set of FEMA-drawn maps that anticipate the impact of rising sea levels, this is not the case nationally, meaning that even a brand-new floodplain map represents the chance of being hit with a flood in the last century rather than the next one. Practitioners should also be aware of codes governing public development. Future plaintiffs could argue that they are admissible to attack or to buttress expert opinions on the prevailing standard of care for private development. Our practitioner in New York should be aware of the city’s new Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which identify climate change risks and appropriate resiliency interventions for city projects—such as raising machinery when building in a potential floodplain. New York is not alone—various other state and local bodies, such as Boston, have developed or are developing similar standards. The Illinois lawsuits discussed above relied, in part, on rainfall predictions in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Similarly, plaintiffs may argue that various nonbinding standards show prevailing practice. Industry bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers are attempting to develop such standards, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board has published standards for engineers adapting to climate change. There is also the risk—as some design professionals have experienced with LEED certification—that undertaking to comply with otherwise nonbinding standards could create legal obligations. Our climate is changing rapidly. Design professionals already have plenty of incentives to make sure that our buildings and infrastructure are ready. A further incentive is that it reduces the risk of tort liability. Larry Dany is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP where he leads the Construction Industry Practice Group in New York City. He helps clients across the construction industry resolve a wide variety of complex business and legal challenges through planning, contract negotiation and drafting, dispute avoidance, claim management, arbitration, and litigation from inception through jury trial in state and federal courts across the country.  Nicholas Boyd is an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. He advises corporations, financial services companies, and state agencies on complex business and civil litigation matters. His practice has a particular emphasis on antitrust disputes, class actions and construction lawsuits.
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Architects, engineers, academics urge Macron not to rush Notre Dame reconstruction

The scramble is on to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral before the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but a concerned coalition of curators, architects, art historians, preservationists, and more have told French president Emmanuel Macron to slow down. In a petition published by the newspaper Le Figaro on April 28, 1,170 signers spoke out against hastily reconstructing Notre Dame. Macron has taken steps since the April 15 fire to speed up the cathedral’s repair, first announcing an international design competition to replace the downed spire, and then the formation of a draft law that would appoint a citizen’s group to oversee the reconstruction. According to The Art Newspaper, the body would have the authority to forgo preservation regulations in the name of meeting the 2024 deadline. Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of the painting department at the Getty Museum, Louvre chief curators Nicolas Milovanovic and Cécile Scailliérez, and a number of prominent French preservationists put their names on the Le Figaro petition. Complicating the issue is that the exact status of Notre Dame is unknown at this point. While the forest of 12th-century wooden support trusses and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire were brought down by the fire, the limestone vaults and thick walls remain standing. The cathedral’s three majestic rose windows also remain intact, but experts cautioned that the fire, and subsequent attempt to put it out, could have caused unseen damage to the structure. “Limestone can lose about 75 percent of its strength when it’s exposed to heat over 600 degrees Celsius,” stone conservationist George Wheeler told The Art Newspaper. “And that fire certainly exceeded 600 degrees Celsius in many locations.” Microscopic cracks in the stone and glass caused by rapid heating and cooling will only become apparent once a full survey of the cathedral has been completed. At the time of writing, experts have not yet determined whether the loss of the roof struts have endangered how the building’s weight is distributed, either. The water used to put out the fire still needs to be removed from the church’s interior as well, and much of the mortar will need to be replaced to prevent the growth of mold. Overall, conservationists have estimated that rebuilding Notre Dame to its pre-fire status could take at least a decade; as such, it remains to be seen whether Macron’s timetable is achievable. In the meantime, a number of architects have already jumped at the chance to design a contemporary update to the cathedral.
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Dominique Perrault reflects on the Notre Dame Cathedral fire

Notre Dame, the heart of the heart of Paris, treasure of the Île de la Cité, has just suffered one of the most trying moments in its long history. Across all lands and cultures of the world, this drama leaves us speechless, touching the hearts and arresting the gaze of everyone. It reminds us all how much architecture, and indeed every artifact, is a fragile thing. Notre Dame is now tragic proof that the preservation of our rich built heritage, of the tangible traces of the great heights of craftsmanship that have been achieved, wherever they may be, is indispensable. This incandescent wound also reveals the emotional dimension carried by architecture and how its universal cultural value, its unique symbolic force, and its mythical dimension nourish the arts, literature, and every individual’s own, personal geography.

Notre Dame is an absolutely unique place, at the heart of the Île de la Cité, from Roman Lutetia to Greater Paris, a land unto itself. This disaster has aroused an immense wave of emotion in the hearts of architects who every day are building and rebuilding the history of architecture.

Tasked in 2015 with conducting an in-depth study of the means of ensuring the continued urban centrality of the Île de la Cité, in collaboration with Philippe Belaval, President of the Center for National Monuments, this event leaves me particularly heartbroken. We made this “island monument," included on UNESCO's World Heritage List, the focus of innovative research and experimentation concerning the island’s future that was open to the participation of the public.

The rebuilding of Notre Dame will be an extremely delicate undertaking, and we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by the irreversible loss of the medieval ribbed roof, also known as “the forest." Our heritage is a sedimentation deposited across the ages, with practically every century leaving its imprint on the cathedral. “Every wave of time superinduces its alluvion." It will have to be rebuilt, and without altering the substance of its heritage.

Therefore, we are compelled to completely review our relation to our heritage and to believe in its capacity for resilience. Notre Dame must be made to live again, and the best way to protect it is to see it through a vision of the future, which, through beauty, will transcend a simple restitution.

Finally, the unique energy of this place must be marshaled to restore to it an even more powerful presence, a wider resonance, transfiguring, amplifying, and exalting it into something else. The stakes regarding the future of this monument are unique. For Notre Dame and its island must once again incarnate the beating heart of a city that has become a vast metropolis. A most fascinating challenge indeed.

Dominique Perrault, Architect, Member of the Institut de France

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St. Patrick's Cathedral also potentially threatened by fire this week

In the wake of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, cities around the world are surely taking note on how to best preserve and protect local architectural landmarks. In New York, two highly-trafficked churches, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, have already come under closer watch. Vice News reported that on Wednesday night, New York City Police counterterrorism officers arrested Marc Lamparello, an adjunct lecturer in philosophy at Lehman College, who walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with four gallons of gas, several bottles of lighter fluid, and a handful of lighters. While officials are still unsure whether he planned to commit a crime, the 37-year-old suspect was “emotionally disturbed,” police said. Lamparello has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and trespassing as of this afternoon, according to the NYPD News's Twitter.  The neo-Gothic church sits on Fifth Avenue across from Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1878, it was designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. Today, it’s one of the city’s most iconic places of worship and a National Historic Landmark that sees an influx of over 5 million visitors each year. The cathedral has been added on to and renovated extensively since first opening; MBB Architects most recently completed a $177 million restoration of the building in 2015. This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s has been subject to some form of terrorism. In 1914 and 1915, respectively, a small bomb exploded on the northwest corner of the cathedral and a trio of Italian anarchists tried to detonate a bomb inside the church. While St. Patrick's Cathedral was only threatened with potential arson this week, a beloved parish uptown actually did get some real heat. The crypt at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Revival structure in the world, caught fire on Sunday morning. New York Daily News reported that a small blaze broke out at 10 a.m. and was extinguished by the fire department in under an hour. Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, the late-19th-century piece of architecture was most recently renovated in 2008 after a 2001 fire swept through the north transept of the church, damaging the gift shop and a bit of its famous Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. In 2017, the building and its historic grounds were designated a New York City Landmark.
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Here's what saved the Notre Dame Cathedral from total destruction

The world watched in total shock on Monday evening as a devastating fire ravaged parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For a moment it looked like the French landmark might be lost completely, but firefighters acted quickly to save the 850-year-old Gothic church. Though a battered version of its former self, Notre Dame still stands today largely because its 226-foot twin bell towers were kept from ruin. “The bell towers are actually like bookends,” noted Thomas Leslie, a Gothic structures specialist and the Morrill Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. “They keep the last vaults from toppling over or spreading out. A lot of people know that flying buttresses are supporting the vaults in one direction from the exterior, but those vaults also want to collapse along the nave. If stone bell towers, which have wooden structures inside them, had ignited and had collapsed, the whole cathedral could have come down in an instant.” In other words, at some point the Paris Fire Brigade made the decision to stop focusing on the expansive roof fire, and spend its resources on the stone bell towers, both of which date back to the mid-13th century. “The roof was a lost cause and they knew it wasn’t going to lead to the collapse of the building’s skeleton,” asserted Leslie. When the fire began around 6:50 p.m. on Monday, panic spread throughout the world about the Notre Dame’s potential downfall. A roof fire, by most standards, is catastrophic. But what much of the media didn’t realize at first, Leslie argued, was that the wooden roof was detached from the structure itself and couldn’t trigger the building's total collapse. Enough heat, however, could melt the masonry over the nave—the stonework on the structure was already under close watch. For the past few years, Notre Dame has been undergoing an extensive, $6.8 million restoration. A piece of medieval construction, it’s been renovated and added onto several times in its history. The 315-foot-tall oak spire that fell in the fire was designed by French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and installed in 1860 after the French Revolution and the elements had damaged the structure. Luckily, the 16 copper statues of the 12 apostles and four evangelists that sat at the spire’s base were removed for cleaning just last week and thus spared from the fire. Along with the stone bell towers, the famed trio of round stained-glass windows survived the fire, including the famous South Rose window, which was donated by King St. Louis in 1260. The deputy mayor of Paris said Notre Dame’s 8,000-pipe Great Organ also sustained the event though it did suffer repairable damages. Several news outlets have reported the church’s irreplaceable art and artifacts were rescued and transferred to the Louvre Museum for safe keeping. While these elements were saved, there’s a gaping hole left now in the nave less than 48 hours after the fire, exposing the interior of the cathedral. For Leslie, it’s the water damage done by the fire squad that’s even more concerning. “When you walk into a cathedral, what you see on the inside is the stone vaulting, there for structural and spatial reasons,” he said. “The timber roof above it essentially for weatherproofing. It keeps rain, snow, and ice off the limestone vaults. I noticed through images that water had pretty clearly penetrated the mortar joints in the surviving vaults. Limestone and lime mortar are both vulnerable to fire in the sense that they don’t burn, they turn into powder.” Securing the existing stonework within Notre Dame and protecting it from weather-damage in the near future are undoubtedly top of mind for the temporary restoration effort moving forward. For the long term, President Emmanuel Macron has promised a rebuild and people have already pledged over $900 million towards the planned reconstruction. Even an international competition to redesign the spire ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris has already been launched. Lisa Ackerman, interim CEO for the New York–based World Monument Fund, noted the energy of the moment. “The good thing about all this is that we live in a world where you find out about tragedies instantly and we’ve found both the outpouring of financial support for Notre Dame to be tremendous, as well as the outpouring of assistance from experts who can help rebuild." For example, the late art historian Andrew Tallon from Vassar College had scanned the entire cathedral with an accuracy within five millimeters. His detailed work is laid out in a stunning 3D laser map of Notre Dame, a piece of pivotal documentation that will likely be used in the restoration efforts. Even the popular video game Assassin’s Creed Unity, which is set in Paris, could be helpful. It’s publisher, Ubisoft, has offered expertise. Collecting global documentation of Notre Dame will help in the upcoming work to stabilize the building for centuries to come. Integrating fire-safe products in the reconstruction, said Ackerman, will help ensure a catastrophic disaster like this doesn’t happen again. “Preservation is always an act of negotiating the past with the present and the visual aesthetic qualities of the structure with new knowledge we have about materials,” she said. “The greatest danger to a historic building is when people think its issues are permanently resolved. Hopefully this was a reminder that many of the sites we take for granted actually have needs and must be continually repaired and investigated for their own wellbeing. If we defer maintenance, we endanger buildings in ways that are clearly unimaginable.”
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France launches an international competition to rebuild Notre Dame’s spire

After the Notre Dame Cathedral tragically caught fire earlier this week, it seemed that work to rebuild what was lost could take decades. However, in a televised address last night, French president Emmanuel Macron declared that he would be pushing an ambitious five-year schedule and would be reopening the cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Additionally, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that France would be holding an international design competition to rebuild the cathedral’s downed spire. “This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility,” said Philippe, adding that the new design should be “adapted to technologies and challenges of our times.” Rather than strictly recreating Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s original barbed spire from the mid-1800s (itself an invention added after the French Revolution and wind damage left the cathedral in shambles), Philippe questioned if it was time to modernize the building. Philippe reportedly asked, "whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc…or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire." No timetable or cost for the spire competition has been announced as of yet, but funding likely won’t be an issue. At the time of writing, $900 million has been pledged for Notre Dame’s reconstruction as hundred-million-Euro donations from some of the world’s wealthiest people and corporations continue to flow towards the project.
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Paris's historic Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames

A large fire has engulfed Paris’s historic Notre Dame Cathedral, causing an incredible amount of damage to the 800-year-old stone and wood structure. Reports of the fire started circulating online late Monday afternoon, Paris time, as tourists and residents posted photos and videos of the blaze on social media. As of Monday evening, the majority of the blaze had been contained, though it had not been entirely put out. Initial reports indicate that the main structure has been “saved and preserved” despite substantial damage to other elements. Portions of the transept and nave roof collapsed during the blaze, as did the cathedral’s main spire. Reports indicate that the cathedral’s main western stained glass rosette window has been destroyed, as well. Other reports indicate that other stained glass windows remain but their status is not entirely known at this time. Many of the relics held at the church—including the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ—were promptly removed and secured, according to authorities. Because of ongoing restoration work, large bronze statues depicting the twelve apostles typically located near the spire that collapsed, including a statue of St. Thomas the Apostle bearing the likeness of architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, were recently relocated to southern France for restoration. Following the blaze, French citizens took to the streets singing prayer songs and chanting in solidarity and mourning for France’s premier cultural and religious site. The cathedral welcomes over 13 million tourists every year according to official estimates and was currently undergoing restoration work. Some of the initial images seen from inside the still smoldering nave of the church taken by journalists Monday night showed damage that appeared less dire than originally feared. In short order, France’s wealthiest citizens began pledging large donations to help pay for the restoration of the cathedral. So far, over $600 million has been promised to the project. “This cathedral will be rebuilt, I promise you," French president Emmanuel Macron said in a speech following the blaze while announcing that a national campaign will get underway on Tuesday to collect the funds necessary for the rebuilding effort. Macron added, “We will rebuild Notre Dame because that is what the French expect and it is what the French deserve.”
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Alternative Grenfell Tower memorial design calls out those responsible

British architecture organization Architects for Social Housing (ASH) has published an alternative take on the Grenfell Tower memorial proposed by architecture studio JAA earlier this month. While JAA's proposal covered the shell of the burned-out building in slabs of black concrete, ASH's vision covers JAA's design with the names of public and private officials ostensibly responsible for the disaster. JAA's design was put forward by the architects as a conceptual exercise that had no backing from the government. As the architects said in Dezeen, the intent for such a design was to give enduring visibility to the tragedy and to encapsulate the event in public memory so that its lessons would not be forgotten. Reactions were mixed; one minister of parliament scorned it as "misery porn." The ASH proposal taps into public outrage surrounding the event. In its aftermath, many of those affected and others across the U.K. accused the local authorities and Prime Minister Theresa May of being insufficiently concerned about the wellbeing of the residents of public housing projects like Grenfell. A public inquiry into the causes of the 2017 disaster, in which 71 people died, started this summer, but no one has been held responsible.
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Glasgow School of Art “extensively damaged” again by massive blaze

For the second time in four years, Glasgow School of Art in Scotland has been devastated by fire. A huge blaze broke out at the school Friday night that has been described by local officials and onlookers  as “heartbreaking,” “devastating,” and “immense.” Images and video relayed via social media Friday night showed a towering inferno lighting up the Glasgow skyline, with embers and flaming debris raining down across the city as a thick plume of smoke filled the night sky. An adjacent nightclub also caught fire and was extensively damaged by the blaze. Ultimately, over 120 firefighters were deployed to the scene amid fears that the fire would spread to further structures. There were reports that responders were unable to enter the school to fight the blaze from within for fear of structural collapse as the fire reached temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Celsius, or over 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures nearly hot enough to melt steel. The building’s structural stone columns were extensively damaged in the previous fire in efforts to save the building. https://twitter.com/jamiemcfadyen87/status/1007821750338506757?s=21 By morning, the Grade-A listed structure could be seen gutted against the morning sun, with stone pillars and destroyed timber framing among the only remaining elements of the iconic, pioneering Arts and Crafts-style structure designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1896. Alan Dunlop, professor of architecture at te Glasgow School told The Guardian, “The building does look as though from the inside it’s been totally gutted. All that seems to remain is the stone walls.” Neil Baxter, a Scottish architectural historian, made a statement to the press Saturday morning saying, “For the city of Glasgow, this is a tragedy. There is no other building in the city as important as this. It is of importance to the world.” Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the fire “heartbreaking” in a statement adding that the latest fire had been “much, much worse than the one that took hold of the Mackintosh building four years ago – so the damage is severe and extensive.” According to The Guardian, the 2014 blaze was caused when flammable gases from a foam canister used for a student project were accidentally ignited and eventually spread throughout the structure through old ventilation ducts. Work on the restoration of elements destroyed by the fire—which included the school’s fabled library—was well under way as the latest blaze broke out. It appears those efforts have been in vain and that the renovated sections have suffered a total loss. Reports indicate that a new sprinkler and fire containment system designed to prevent further fires was in the process of being installed as the restoration pushed toward a late 2018 completion. AN will continue to provide updates on the situation in Glasgow as more information becomes available.
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Landmarks approves partial demolition of Lower East Side synagogue destroyed by fire

Update 7/12/17: The article was updated to clarify the resolution the commissioners voted on yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) debated how to preserve a Manhattan synagogue gutted by fire earlier this year. Instead of approving the owner's request to demolish the building entirely, the commission agreed that important parts of the structure should be salvaged, where possible. The building in question is the Beth Hamerdash Hagodol, at 60 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side. The modified Gothic Revival–style structure was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and converted to a synagogue in 1885. Home to a Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation for more than a century but vacant since 2007, it was one of the first structures added to New York’s landmark list, in 1967. In May, the building was destroyed by a blaze that was later characterized as arson; it's missing its roof and most of the interior is filled with rubble. Given the extensive damage, the hearing focused on whether the building has enough integrity to remain an individual landmark, and if so, how its structure should be preserved. In testimony to the commission, Bryan Chester, an engineer from Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, detailed the shul's precarious structural integrity. The wooden roof trusses are "beyond repair," while the masonry bearing walls are unstable and severely deteriorated. Of the two towers that flanked the main (west) entrance, the northern one is in bad shape, but the south and east facades, though unstable, are in slightly better condition. The building had no fire insurance, and the extent of the damages put restoration out of the question—any materials above the window sills would probably be unsalvageable, Chester said. On the whole, those who testified before the commission advocated against demolition and for preservation in some form. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of preservation group Historic Districts Council, said the group "strenuously objects" to demolition, while noting that the owner's negligence over the years shouldn't be rewarded with a tear-down. The synagogue is on a prime lot on the Lower East Side, a district that by some measures is one of Manhattan's most gentrified. Speaking for Friends of the Lower East Side, a group that preserves the architectural and cultural heritage of the neighborhood, Joyce Mendelsohn said the group was in "total opposition" to demolition. Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy agreed, noting that years before the fire, the preservation advocacy group had worked with the congregation to come up with an action plan for the building, which was in poor repair. (Right before the blaze, the synagogue had almost reached a deal with the Chinese American Planning Council, a nonprofit that owns two neighboring sites, to restore the building and erect affordable housing.) Considering the state of the structure, demolition seemed a done deal, but the LPC commissioners were hesitant to okay the applicant's request in light of the building's cultural significance. Scaffolding surrounds the ruins; right now, there's little danger the remaining structure could topple, but Chester said that in a few more months the situation could be more dangerous. So what could be salvaged, and how should the building's heritage honored? Landmarks hired engineers at Superstructures to independently evaluate the site. The firm concurred with the Zimmerman team that the south and east facades, though unstable, were repairable. The demolition team would deploy tall machines to take the synagogue apart from the top down, a process Chester likened to dinosaurs chomping on trees. But commissioners had questions: What if the crew destroys more of the remains than necessary? What if the building could be preserved and appreciated like Roman or Mayan ruins, or the Carmo Convent in Lisbon? "I'm unconvinced of the absolute necessity for demolition," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire, even when taking into account the building's unstable walls. Fellow Commissioner Frederick Bland added that the group needed to "see what's left and re-assess" after the structure has been stabilized. At the meeting, the commissioners decided to preserve, where feasible, the building's most important elements, but did not vote up/down on the owner's demolition bid. Instead, LPC general council Mark Silberman was asked to draft a resolution on the project that modified the owner's request. The resolution states that parts of the building need to be removed for safety reasons, especially around the north, south, and west facades, while retaining as much material as possible, with significant architectural features salvaged. The whole process will be overseen on-site by the LPC's engineers. It was approved yesterday afternoon. Edward Gunts contributed reporting.
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Manhattan's historic St. Sava Church destroyed in shocking post-Easter blaze

[UPDATE: Officials now say candles were likely the cause] Late Sunday night, the landmarked Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on West 25th Street in Nomad was engulfed in a four-alarm fire, hours after parishioners wrapped up Easter services. The St. Sava Church, where writer Edith Wharton was married, is an English Gothic Revival structure designed by Richard Upjohn and built in 1855. On Twitter, reactions to the fire were as swift as the blaze itself: https://twitter.com/TedGrunewald/status/727210957827629058 The church, local preservation activist Theodore Grunewald noted, had one of New York City's largest hammerbeam roofs: https://twitter.com/TedGrunewald/status/726982205952659456 https://twitter.com/Angelina_Sje/status/727288125081407488 https://twitter.com/SerbianWorld/status/727271444586094593 The aftermath shows a burned-out shell, the timber roof reduced to char on the church floor. As locals mourned the destruction of the historic site, some, including city council member Cory Johnson, suspected foul play. Developers have had their eyes on the site's air rights. WNYC initially reported that the FDNY has deemed the fire suspicious, partially due to the large volume of smoke billowing from the site when firefighters arrived on the scene around 7 P.M., although later reports posit that the fire was caused by an unattended box of candles.
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It's Getting Hot in Here: The Latest in Fire Safety Tech

Two pretty cool things happened this month in the world of fire safety. Both products are suitable for commercial and residential use and require little effort when being added to existing spaces. The Plumis Automist Smartscan can be easily retrofitted in just a few hours, as it connects to the buildings existing water supply using flexible low-pressure hoses. The sprinkler uses a sensor to constantly monitor the room and detect a change in the rooms temperature. If a hot-spot is detected the sprinkler will pop-out and spray a fine mist directly at the targeted area which results in less damage while also saving water (about 90 percent). The system is not quite available for purchase, but has been undergoing extensive testing in both the U.S. and the U.K. The Tarkett Safe-T first system uses photoluminescent technology to clearly mark exit paths in event of fire or power outage. The systems is compliant with International Building Code and uses no electricity, in case back up systems are not available. The light comes from the use of non-toxic inorganic strontium aluminate crystals that absorb light source energy. The product is highly durable which makes it perfect for high-traffic areas.