ABOUT THE ARCHITECT:
Christa is a Principal at CTA Architects P.C. whose journey with the firm began in 1994 when she joined as a member of the technical staff. With a deep-rooted passion for sustainable design and a keen understanding of Building Code and Zoning issues, Christa plays a pivotal role in driving the office's environmental research and implementation of green technologies, including adherence to LEED and Certified Passive House design standards.
Christa has worked on some of the firm's largest projects, and she brings a consistent focus on sustainability to all of her work. The 90,000-square-foot, mixed-use Lower Eastside Girls Club/Arabella 101 was designed to LEED standards, and the Grand Street Guild moderate rehabilitation featured a 3,500-square-foot maintenance building with a seasonally blooming extensive green roof. Her recent projects include the award-winning exterior preservation of the cast iron façade at 54 Bond Street, and she recently oversaw the completion of the conversion of an illegal SRO into low-income housing for formerly homeless elderly residents on the Upper West Side. Her current workload includes the start of construction on a building rehabilitation project that is part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's RetrofitNY pilot program.
In addition to her work as a Principal at CTA, Christa taught at Pratt Institute for a number of years and lectured for the New York City Urban Green Council and the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. She is also a member of the New York City Department of Buildings Construction Requirement & Materials Committee and the New York City Energy Conservation Code Commercial Advisory Committee.
650 Park Avenue
designed by CTA Architects
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Doug Patt (DP)
Let's go inside the vault. The design vault.
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Christa Waring (CW)
It's only exterior work. Right now, we've just mobilized to start the brick restoration. We had great assistants getting a perfect match to the original white glazed brick that they have there. You want to make sure when you're doing this much brickwork that your spackle is right, and it doesn't stand out in the end. And Landmarks approves the work very easily.
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This is my guest, Christa Waring. I'll share more about her shortly in this episode from The Design Vault. We highlight Christa's project in New York City, 650 Park Avenue. 650 Park Avenue is located in the Upper East Side Historic District, built in 1963 and designed by Emery Roth and Sons Architects. It's a 21-story apartment building with a white glazed brick facade and setbacks above the 16th floor.
The base of the building maintains the building line of Park Avenue. Recent façade examinations revealed a deficiency in the wall tie system that connects the face masonry to the backup concrete block masonry. CTA designed a program of facade repairs that include face masonry pinning in addition to the restoration of all shelf angles across the façades. The original construction features have finished glazed edge over all the window lintels, which has an impressive impact on the esthetic of the building. Thus, the project entails an extensive masonry rebuild where matching the existing brick is of paramount importance.
Hi, I'm Doug Pat, and this is Design Vault.
Christa Waring is a principal at CTA Architects, P.C. in New York City. She's been with the firm since 1994. She received her Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute. She's passionate about sustainable design and has a keen understanding of building code and zoning issues.
Christa drives her office's environmental research and implementation of green technologies, which includes adherence to lead and certified passive House design standards. She's worked on some of CTA's largest projects, including the 90,000 square foot mixed use Lower East Side Girls Club, Arabella 101, and the Grand Street Guild. Her recent projects include the award-winning exterior Preservation of the Cast Iron Facade at 54 Bond Street.
She also recently oversaw the completion of the conversion of an illegal SRO into low-income housing on the Upper West Side. One of her current projects includes a building rehabilitation project that's part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's Retrofit New York pilot program. Christa taught at Pratt Institute and lectured for the New York City Urban Green Council and the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.
She's also a member of the New York City Department of Buildings Construction Requirement and Materials Committee, and the New York City Energy Conservation Code, Commercial Advisory Committee. So welcome, Christin. It's nice to have you with us today. So, tell us a little bit about CTA architects, P.C. in New York City. So where are you guys located in New York. What's the size of the firm? How long have you been around and what type of work do you do?
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Well, thank you for having me today. CTA Architects. We're located down in the Flatiron District, just a couple of blocks from the Flatiron. We have 60 plus employees at this point, including support staff. We do a variety of work in New York City. All of our work is focused in the five boroughs, frankly, mostly Manhattan. We do have Brooklyn and Queens, some in Staten Island, a couple in the Bronx.
But we originally started out in 1987 or so. We came into being around the time that the first facade laws came into effect. And so, it was something that we naturally fell into. And we have been doing that work ever since I've been there since 1994. Our founding partner, Doug Cutsogeorge was my professor at Pratt and hired me as an intern in my second year there, and I have been there ever since.
So, I was an intern. I typed envelopes that when we had typewriters, I fax things and then went out and did field measurements and climbed around on ladders and hung on scaffolds. And 29 years later, still there. And I've been a partner since 2014.
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Real quickly, tell me about these façade laws. What is that?
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You know, my business partner Dan, could give you, like, every single date and iteration, but I'll give you the gist, which is that terracotta fell off a building at Columbia University and that initiated a city response, which was at that time called Local Law ten, which mandated that all buildings over six stories have to be inspected every five years by a registered professional and a report submitted to the Department of Buildings.
So, at that point, all of the buildings submitted on the same day, February 21st, every five years, and as the law developed, it keeps developing based on things that have happened in the city. At that point, it was just the street elevation and you just had to look at it with binoculars. Now it's the entire building and you have to look at it from a hanging scaffold or a bucket truck. And depending on the construction type, you have to open probes through the face masonry to expose what's in the cavity.
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Wow. So, the incident at Columbia was that in the early eighties?
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That was in the early to mid-eighties. So first it was Local ten and then it was local Law 11. And now it's called the Façade Inspection Safety Program.
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So, it sounds like a good thing. They're now inspecting buildings for this very issue.
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Right. And now they broke up the buildings. There are three sub cycles, so not every report for every building in the city is due on the same day. So now it's broken up. So that makes it a little easier.
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So, tell us a little bit about yourself. So how long have you been a practicing architect and what's your role in the office as principal?
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I got my license in 2003, But, you know, obviously I was working for the nine years before that. Currently, as principal, I do a lot of things. I wear a lot of hats. I yell at contractors, I hold clients’ hands and bring in work and put out fires where I need to.
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Do you like your job?
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I do. It is challenging. It's a lot. You have to really want to buy into it and invest. My partners, I've been with them almost 30 years. They're family and it's a good place to be. They're good partners.
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That sounds like a really interesting niche market.
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It is. And it's funny because, you know, there are a few firms in the city that do this, and we all know each other, and then we all get offshoots from employees have left and hung their own shingle and proceeded to sell focus and exterior restoration work. I would say it's about 70% of our work is exterior restoration.
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Gotcha. Let's talk about 650 Park Avenue. So how did you guys get the project?
So, I think, like everything in my history at CTA, it was word of mouth. It's kind of a tangled web. So, we use a consulting engineer who was working on a project out and Garden City, Long Island, and they needed an architect. So, he referred me to the owner, and the owner liked us and then brought us on to some of the more buildings that he owns in Brooklyn.
And then they were going around and around with their facade issues at the building that he lives in. And so, then he brought me in over there. So, it was all this chain. I always say, you never know who you're talking to when you're going to run into them again, who they are, who they end up being. To you and professionally. So that's how we got brought into the building.
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That's really interesting. So, could you give us a little history of the location? So, what was there prior to 1963, if you know?
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I do not know what was there prior to 1963, but it is a typical white glazed brick building of that era with the wedding cake setbacks. Also, during that construction period, the kind of problems that you find typically in that construction.
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So, the scope of the project then was only exterior work. Do you guys too any renovation work on the interior?
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It's only exterior work right now. We've just mobilized to start the brick restoration and we are going to visit with landmarks, redoing the ground floor, the base of the building as well.
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So, the project is currently underway.
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It's just started.
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Just getting rolling.
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Just getting rolling. It's exciting.
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So stylistically, the setbacks on those building that's due to the new laws in New York City at the time.
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Yes, those were due to zoning.
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Project restrictions - so when you guys are working on an exterior facade, what are the rules of the road? How do you guys end up doing a project like that? I would imagine that the exterior is all scaffolding at some point. What does the city make the contractor do?
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Okay, so first we started this project with, I would say, upwards of a hundred probes through the face masonry to really define what the issues were, because there was some debate over the extent of the repairs that were necessary. So, I spent a lot of time on the scaffold in the summer of 2022 looking at all the probes and really identifying the same repetitive problem over and over again.
We're just getting mobilized with hanging the rigs and part of all that entails is we had to file drawings at the Department of Buildings to get our permits and landmarks. Landmarks has to approve first, and we had great assistance getting a perfect match to the original white glazed brick that they have there. You would be surprised at how many iterations of white glazed brick there can be, but you want to make sure when you're doing this much brickwork that your speckle is right and it doesn't stand out in the end.
And Landmarks approves the work very easily. We didn't have any issues. I submitted to them the chip that we had custom made for the building. So that was great. To mobilize, the contractor has to pull scaffold permits, so he has to file with the city to install hanging scaffolds. There was already a sidewalk shed in front of the building to protect the pedestrians on the street. It's a corner building, so a lot of sidewalk shed that's been there for a while.
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So, let's back up. How did they know they had a problem? There were bricks falling off the building.
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It originally came up in a small exterior restoration project before our time that someone identified that they had a problem, and then it just kept developing from there.
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And how many sides were that exposed? Two or three. I understand it's a corner. Does it have a back side?
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Actually, it's L-shaped in the back. It has a number of large façades. It has the two large corner facades.
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So, the building's L-shaped and plan to then open up to a courtyard and-
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Okay. How long does the project then take? Start to finish on a building this size?
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So, we're looking at completion in February of 2025. So, it's going to be about a year and a half on the ground. We have to install all of the pins. We have to pin the face masonry back to the backup block, which is a retrofit wall tie and first they pin and then we're going to strip all the shelf angles above and below the shelf angle and address the flashing and repaint the shelf angles.
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And sometimes we'll have to replace some of the angles and rebuild the masonry. And we have some parapet work to do, parapets that are not in good shape.
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So just so I understand that. So, they put up the scaffolding. Then you end up spending a bunch of time out there. I would imagine your partners are also out there. What I'm getting at is who identifies the structural issue? Who's the expert? Is it the architect?
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Oh yes, I did that. Yep.
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Interesting. You then document those issues in drawing form, like two dimensional drawings or 3D drawings and present them to somebody.
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Yes. Two dimensional drawings and photographs. I think the photos really speak a thousand words on this one. I presented it to the board. It's a condominium, so they have a board of directors and we met with them. I went over what I saw and the resident manager there was also very helpful, and he understands the situation and saw some of the probes that were open, that were closer to the ground and could confirm what we were telling them.
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So, you put together a set of drawings and is that priced like a typical architectural set of drawings by a GC? Is it then bid out and the lowest bidder is chosen? What's that process look like?
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So, we put together a set of drawings and construction details because we had opened so many probes, there were no questions. A lot of times when you work on a building and there are no existing drawings, which is probably 90% of the time for us, you're making assumptions about how things were built in the period of the building, right?
So inevitably you open it up and there's a surprise, sometimes a minor surprise, sometimes not so minor surprise. But this one, because we had had so many probes opened, we were able to really pin down what was behind the wall. So, we put together elevations, construction details and written specifications. We put them out to bid like the architects having a niche market in exterior restoration in New York City, there are also contractors who are a niche market for exterior restoration in New York City.
So, we bid to five or six or seven of those guys, the majority of whom I've known for many, many years. You know, we all work on the same stuff, and they select the bidder. Because it's private, it doesn't have to go to the lowest bidder. You know, we usually have an interview process so that the board can meet the contractor and get their feel for if they're a good match, that they're going to be a good match with building staff. So we go through the bidding process and then the contract is awarded and they do all that legal stuff on the side that I don't have to worry about.
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So, you guys do two dimensional drawings, details, any 3-D stuff? Not really necessary.
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Not really necessary for this type.
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And how many people end up working on one of your projects like this one?
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So, on this project, it was myself, our project manager, Freddy, and his staff member Arefa.
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So, let's get into the details. How does this work? Like, how do you do what you're doing? Are you just replacing bricks in specific areas? Are you replacing entire facades? And what does that detail look like?
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So, in the scope that we settled on, we are replacing the bricks along every shelf, angled the building, and this building has shelf angles that every floor.
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Explained to us what that is, a shelf angle.
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This is a concrete framed building. So, it has a concrete structure, and a shelf angle is a continuous steel lintel basically that holds up the masonry at every floor and it's bolted back to the concrete slab at regular intervals. There are shims and bolts, and it holds the slab in there. It holds the brick at every floor, provides the gravity support, and the wall ties provide lateral support. So, the shelf angles that this building were in very good condition. There are a few issues here and there, but nothing terrible.
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They’re all steel?
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They are steel like three by three, 4x4 angles. Some of them were shallow. So, we're making them a little deeper.
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Were they galvanized or painted?
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The original ones were not. They were painted. But when we go back, we go back with galvanized and stainless-steel bolts, and then we replace the shims and the bolts, obviously. And where we find a length of deteriorated shelf angle, we will replace that. We have an allowance for that in the contract to deal with that because there were some areas higher up on the building where they get, you know, more weather exposure that we're in worse condition.
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Tell us a little bit about the brick. How did you get the matches?
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Fortunately, this building hasn't had any huge projects on it, so it was fairly easy to identify which white glazed brick was the original brick, which was good because there were maybe three different bricks on it, different color, white base. You know, one was a little pink, one was a little white, or some had a brown speckle, some had a fine speckle, some had a varied speckle.
So, because there are so many setbacks, we were able to go to somebody's terrace where there hadn't been any work high up on the building because at the base at stone. So, I'm not comparing it at the base of the building. We also walked along the sidewalk shed because that gets you up higher. And we selected - we were like, okay, this is the original brick.
And then I reached out to King's. They are brick distributors in New York City, and the folks there were super helpful and made me all sorts of custom samples and they have little brick chips and brought the brick chips up to site and went through everything with the resident manager and decided on our brick. And then you mentioned in your intro the finished underside of the brick at all of the window lintels.
So, when you have a shelf angle you don't see in the field of the masonry, you don't see the underside, the clay body of the brick. But over the lentils you can see like the little yellow clay body of the brick. And I really got into the fact that it was finished on the underside. I think it's just a little bit like a perfect little thing that I really liked. So, we asked for that as well.
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Is that like a space that's about a half hedge, three quarters of an inch wide?
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Yeah, it's about a half an inch. If you have the right amount of bearing. And so, they put the glaze on the underside. So, the Masons have to be aware, obviously, when they're rebuilding to look for that. I'm sure I'll catch some in the beginning before they get used to it.
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Is it going to be hard to find a good mason?
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We have the contractor on board, and he has good masons on hand, so I'm not very worried about that.
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So, did you guys learn anything interesting through the construction process, through the inquiry process, anything unusual, Anything you'd never seen before?
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Not anything I've never seen before, thank goodness. Because those are never good surprises. I was happy, given the lack of wall ties, that I was happy to find that the backup masonry was still in good condition. We didn't have to worry about the backup masonry because that can also be an issue. We decided to pin the columns, which I was surprised actually worked because I had never pinned columns before because you're pinning into the concrete.
So, when you do the retrofit wall tie, you can call the manufacturers rep and he'll come out and do a test. He'll drill in the wall tie, and then he has like a crank to see what the force is, to see if the tie actually holds. And I had originally planned to strip all of the column locations in the building and rebuild that as well.
But on another project of mine, we had had pull tests done for retrofit pins on that building and they went into the columns, and I was like, wait, what? I didn't think that could happen. So, we called them out. We had had him do the tests in the field, in the masonry before, but we had him come back and do the pull tests and the columns and the pins drilled right in. So, it was great news.
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So, these are columns on the exterior facade behind the brick masonry.
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Right there, directly behind one wythe of brick behind the masonry. So, the backup concrete block goes right to the column. And then if you were to take all the face masonry off the building, you would see a grid of the columns with the backup block in between.
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And all the residents there. Do they get to live through the construction process?
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They do...Yeah. It's never pretty. It's just not. I feel bad, but there is going to be a lot of saw cutting, which is dusty. There is going to be a lot of drilling, which is loud. So, I hope that people at 650 Park, if you're listening, maybe you go back to working in the office for a while. What we do is loud and not anything that anyone wants to have to hear all day long if they're home.
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Back to the building for a second. I'm really surprised there were no drawings.
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We did have some the building super. The resident manager had some drawings.
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Yeah. What's always amazing. I mean, to go back further than that, people-built buildings from so little information, right? I mean, it's crazy.
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Yeah. So, we didn't really find any wall details. We had elevation drawings and then there's always elevation drawings, probably some plans and lots of plumbing drawings and mechanical drawings, which I don't need and are never accurate because they never built it that way anyway. And it was sixty years ago. So, lots of things have changed. So, we did go through the resident manager's giant bin of drawings in the beginning and got what we could use and it was helpful.
I mean, it helped us locate all of the columns along the facade, right? We wouldn't have had that if we didn't have the original drawings. It would have been more of a guess. But like in this project I said was knock wood a lot of guesswork so far.
00;22;05;29 - 00;22;16;02
Yeah. And you talked a little bit about existing conditions and drawings. Is that something that you still do, do some existing condition sketches when you're out there and then somebody'll draw it up for you or.
00;22;16;09 - 00;22;56;00
Oh absolutely. That's part of the process. You know, I went to site one day with my notebook and my pen and the contractor said, well, the girl who came last time had an iPad. And I said, I don't have an iPad. I have a notebook and a pen. They tried to give me an iPad, but I'm just more comfortable sketching it.
I feel like there is a connection between pencil and paper that makes you understand what you're looking at and what you're drawing. I don't know. When you go to architecture school, you don't really know anything when you start. And I started to understand through drawing, and I went to school in the era where there was no computer drafting.
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Yeah, I experienced the same thing.
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Yeah, I feel like there's a real connection and I think, you know, a lot of times there's an assumption that the computer program is the be all, end all. Not that just a tool and people don't really sometimes don't understand what it is that they're drawing because the computer's creating the detail.
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They miss it in the learning process.
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Yeah. And because we do what we do, that's not something that they teach. They don't teach that at school. I actually didn't have to take construction documents in school because I got credit for my job because I was doing actual construction documents. I worked full time. I went to school part time. So, it took me a very, very long time to graduate.
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Wow, that's impressive.
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00;23;37;29 - 00;23;42;20
Christa, was sustainability an issue for you guys when you took on the project?
00;23;42;27 - 00;24;46;20
Unfortunately, with this project, given the parameters of the scope, we could not really accomplish the integration of additional insulation in the cavity or something to that effect, moving forward, but in our office, we really focus on the concept of maintaining existing buildings and doing rehabilitations as sustainable practice. We have a sustainability coordinator that we brought on about two years ago.
She's fantastic. She keeps us honest. She's always regulating things, making sure we're composting, taking things out of the garbage can and putting them in the compost. We did a full led switch over on our lighting in the office pushed by her. She's changed our specs, you know, she'll give me and my partner Dan markups on the specifications with suggestions and we integrate that into our specifications. We do have a sustainable component in every job and some jobs, we can take it to a whole other level.
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Yeah, it would seem to me that have to go to the interior, right, and rip out all of the plasterwork and drywall and then reinsulate. So, I'm curious, a building like that, it gets a new facade, but it's not going to really change the R-value of the walls and it's still probably going to be a cold building.
00;25;03;06 - 00;25;28;21
Right, there is that. And then a lot of times people say, well, I can put in these super-duper windows. And I'm like, Yeah, but your walls are not insulated at all. And you have a PTAC unit, which is basically a hole in the wall. So, you have to look at the balance of how to accomplish what it is you need to accomplish. But we look at the materials and the VOCs, and the location where things are made as well plays into sustainability.
00;25;28;21 - 00;25;29;29
Yeah, it is what it is.
Yeah. I was on the Energy Code review Committee, as you mentioned, the advisory committee, but one of the reasons I signed up for that is because it does not answer existing buildings to the extent that I think it should, given that it's the New York City Energy Code and there's still some gaps in there. But, you know, we're conserving these buildings, we’re restoring them, we're not tearing down and building new ones.
And so that's good for the environment. But then how can we make a realistic energy code that you can apply to all of these existing conditions that we can't just change?
00;26;06;09 - 00;26;09;13
I think it's wonderful. It's something most people don't think about.
00;26;09;20 - 00;26;38;04
They don't know. And I lectured for Urban Green on the Energy Code. I gave a scintillating seven-hour long lecture. I ran out of words, though, during COVID, I couldn't do it on a screen. So, I tell my kids I ran out of words because there are a lot of words, but I think even sometimes the people that I was lecturing to depending on, you know, like you said, a normal architecture firm isn't thinking about this stuff because they're not dealing with existing building. They're dealing with a plot of land.
00;26;38;06 - 00;26;59;27
So, Christa, you've been an architect for some time. Based on what you know today about being an architect, do you have any words of advice for either your younger self or young architects coming up? Because what you do is a little different - the 70% of the work that you guys do - is really very different from what many architects end up doing when they get out of school.
00;27;00;05 - 00;27;33;04
One word of advice is not to be too married to the thought of what you think you want to do and to try different things, and you might really find something that surprises you, that you do. I've found along the way I've done some projects I would never imagine when I was in school that I would do something like that, and I really enjoyed it.
When you go to school, you have a vision, I'm going to do this. I want to do this. And if you just open yourself up to different projects and you might find something that really makes an impression on you.
00;27;33;11 - 00;27;35;23
Yeah. What clearly worked for you?
00;27;35;25 - 00;28;13;05
Yeah. And to my younger self, I don't know that I have advised my younger self because I don't know how much I've changed, but I always felt like if you're doing what you enjoy and you're with people that you enjoy doing it with, then little things that might be irksome to contemporary youth don't really register. They're not important in the long run, and you have to see the big picture.
I mean, did I think when I was hired, did I think when I was 23, someday I’ll own the company? No, I didn't think that, but it happened. So you never know. Hard work and a lot of luck is what gets you where you want to be.
00;28;13;10 - 00;28;19;29
Christa, it's been great to have you here. Thanks for your time. Where can people go to learn more about CTA architects and yourself?
00;28;20;02 - 00;28;44;21
We have a website. It's www.ctaarchitects, all one-word dotcom where we showcase all of our finest work. Sometimes people look at our website and get a little, oh that's very fancy, but I always say it's your portfolio, it's your best, but there's everything in there. There's all this stuff that we do that doesn't make it to the portfolio level that's necessary.
00;28;44;24 - 00;28;46;15
Well, thank you very much. Been great to have you.
00;28;46;19 - 00;28;51;09
Thank you for having me. It was nice talking.
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