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February 15, 2024
A Philosophical Challenge

This restoration presented SUPERSTRUCTURES with two professional challenges.

The subject building: NYU’s Department of Philosophy Building (Alfred Zucker, 1891)—an irreplaceable part of the Noho Historic District (photo 1).

Challenge #1: To extrapolate, based on incomplete evidence, facade details that had been lost over time.

Some of the facade’s original character had been lost with the deterioration and removal or improper repair of its terra cotta, brownstone, and cast-iron elements. Like layers of an onion, peeling back materials from previous repairs revealed clues, as did research on the architect’s signature style through historic photos, drawings, and study of similar buildings (photos 2 and 3).

A specimen of original coping was found underneath a non-historic metal cover and sent to terra cotta fabricator, Gladding McBean to match that detail.

The elaborate terra cotta pier caps had been completely lost and their “stumps” covered in steel plate. The profiles of these distinctive sculptural elements had to be recreated from the available evidence (photo 4).

Challenge # 2: To decide where inappropriate past repairs to the facade should be reversed to recreate the building’s historic appearance.

Given our mission to preserve and/or responsibly recreate the building’s historic appearance in every detail, reversal of inappropriate terra cotta repairs had to be carefully weighed.

Dentils had been replaced with fiberglass (FRP—fiberglass reinforced plastic) and numerous locations were covered with an unsuitable cementitious coating that could not be removed (photo 5). Both situations necessitated complete replacement, involving professional judgment guided by the character of the original materials and design.  

Our close collaboration with the contractor, the terra cotta fabricator, and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission ensured the quality and accuracy of the work performed.

For SUPERSTRUCTURES, this restoration drew on the first principle of one of our guiding philosophies—“first, do no harm”—borrowed from the Hippocratic Oath. We were proud to work with a longtime client, NYU, and are gratified to see the building restored to its 1891 glory (photo 6).

SUPERSTRUCTURES Engineers + Architects

14 Wall Street, 25th Floor, New York, NY 10005
(212) 505 1133


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