Working With Architectural Committees Maintaining Aesthetics and History

Property maintenance is a major responsibility of ownership.  In many unique ways, maintenance programs in a co-op or condo buildings – especially in older properties having architectural or design features with important artistic histories – may present more complex requirements. These complexities become even more pronounced when a property has official landmark status or is situated in a landmark neighborhood.

Landmark’s Mission, and the Reality of Preservation 

The New York City Administrative Code states the following to clarify its position on landmarking and historic preservation: “It is hereby declared as a matter of public policy that the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of improvements and landscape features of special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value is a public necessity and is required in the interest of the health, prosperity, safety and welfare of the people.”  Preservation programs are generally viewed as being in the best interest of a community, and historic designations and the awarding of landmark status to buildings, blocks, or even whole neighborhoods are usually well-received by communities and their residents.

Patrick Rosen is an architect and partner with Chicago-based Rosen Architecture.  He has worked on many projects that have official landmark status, as well as properties without landmark designation, but which have a high level of artistic and historical architectural significance that both the municipality and the property owner seek to preserve. “The landmark thing is a little tricky,” Rosen says. “Chicago has an ordinance resulting from an incident that occurred 12 or 15 years ago where a woman was killed by a piece of glass that fell off of a building. In reaction, an ordinance was instituted that any building over 80 feet in height must be inspected annually. They are particularly concerned with these historic buildings that have terracotta or cornices, regardless of landmark status.”  

At least two similar incidences have occurred in New York City in recent years, resulting in similar ordinances, and the sudden appearance of scaffolding surrounding many buildings throughout the city. The move to improve building safety has had an ironic side-effect: the omnipresent scaffolds and sidewalk sheds have recently come under scrutiny by the local media as contributing to crime, and an increase in vermin.  

In Chicago, Rosen explains, “The way it works is that any building that has any kind of historic designation will automatically get a hold on any work submitted to the building department for approval when a repair or a renovation is required. You can’t go through the process with the Building Department till you go through the Landmarks Department.”  The same is true in New York.

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