Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Last week the The New York City Dept. of Design and Construction posted this colorful sign at the Armory's 15th Street entance archway. Work has already begun transforming the Drill Hall into a world class multi-purpose athletic, recreational, and educational center. Take The Field, a non-profit organization is leading the $16 million conversion initiative in collaboration with the Departments of Education (DOE) and Homeless Services (DHS).

The P.S. Armory's program will be modeled after the highly successful Fort Washington Armory's full-service community center located in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. Back in the eighties, the Ft. Washington Armory had the reputation as one of the cities most inhumane homeless shelters, warehousing more than 1800 men at one point.

The Ft. Washington Armory is now home to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, and has the reputation as the fastest track in the Northeast.

Last year, the exterior of the entire building was extensively restored. All the arched double sash window were replaced. The massive roof was completely removed down to it's steel support arches and replaced one shingle at a time. All the masonry was repointed and any missing or damaged brickwork was painstakingly matched so that the repairs are now almost invisible. They even matched the green sandstone that forms the foundation of the Armory.

Recently they have been painting the interior ceiling and have begun the demo of the upper balconies. This is the start of the 2 year plan to replace and upgrade the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

We are truly blessed here in Brooklyn. Perfect time to remind everyone that it's never to early to start testing the urine of our local youth for performance enhancing substances. Maybe by this time next year the center will be open for business.

Audit: Revoke Pending 6/26/06?

I'm not a Schadenfreudian by nature, but it appears the DoB wants to have a second look at the plans for The Armory Plaza.
I am not sure this is the same as a Stop Work Order, but the job site is very quiet today. Nice rainy morning for snail hunting.
Let us hope that the DoB audits the right set of plans. I would hate to see some cheese factory in Sheboygan get closed down by mistake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Escar gone!

I'm taking the day off to work on my survivalist cooking skills. My lastest obsession has been picking the snails off my hosta plants.

The typical garden variety banded brown rimmed land snail is considered a pest, but they are edible. Why waste a perfectly good beer in the hopes of luring a few mollusks to their watery graves, when you can eat the snails and drink the beer yourself.

Why is it that even creatures as humble as the snail, still produce stunningly beautiful homes for themselves? Perfect form. Perfect function. But honestly, that shell is all that really separates them from the lowly slug.

Did you know snails are hermaphroditic bisexuals? Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Next week my recipe for Free Range Organic Earth Worm Patties. Oh yeah, if your cat should go missing this week, it wasn't me!

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Eastern Front

Much faster "progress" this week as the workers are able to install several foundation piles a day. Each work day begins with water being pumped out of the surrounding area using a large hose. They have changed their methods slightly in the way they finish pounding the piles into the ground. They now fill an excavator's bucket full with dirt before they slam it down on top of the pile. Corking the bat? You can see the amount of force necessary to set the piles by the bent edges of these 60' long steel tubes.
You can see how the boring process is not so exact, as the opening of the excavated hole is much bigger than the actual 18'' diameter of the pile. That sure explains the collateral damage to our back yard garden spaces. Notice the small cement foundation wall under the existing chainlink fence. It has prevented the usual sink hole that occurs on the other side of the property line. Heavy rain is predicted for this weekend.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


This week the Board of Standards and Appeals voted unanimously to grant the developer's financially based hardship appeal for 400 15th Street. This means that the developer, despite a community mandated down zoning of the neighborhood, will be allowed to continue their project under the old 1961 R6 zoning laws. What is the surprise? Doesn't the BSA have a past history of siding with the builder against the wishes of the community? Why should the Board go out and buy another RUBBER STAMP when the one marked "APPROVED" has been working just fine for all these years?
The change from R6 to R6B took effect on November 16th, 2005. The property has been under a DoB issued Stop Work Order for most of the time since. The Board took pity on the fools and decided to reward them for their ham-handed design and contruction work that resulted in, now brace yourself, just one ECB violation with a staggering, hardship inducing, $1,000 fine! Granted, they had to crack the adjacent property, 396 15th Street, down the middle like a big mellon in order to get penalized. Word to all you real estate speculators out there. If it looks like your property site is about to be rezoned before you can finish your foundation, make sure you have some serious F*ck-ups to fall back on when making your hardship appeals. To begin with, you should claim to have paid way too much for your property. I reccomend the following plan of action. It has a proven track record.

Remember, a "hole in the ground" counts as a half-finished foundation! Start digging that hole without a serious foundation plan on how to secure your neighbors property. Foundation work is pretty much like hanging wall paper. Start in the corner and go around the room. Make sure you leave a good amount of water sitting in the hole for a couple of weeks. Don't get bogged down in underpinning details. Boring soil test samples? You don't need no stinkin' soil test samples!

Oh shit! Nice! Now you are finally getting the DoB's attention. It only took three "311" complaints about your questionable building practices to get noticed. Remedial shoring of adjacent property with I beams...Priceless!

How about adding another zero to that figure. People might think your mother works for the DOB.

Don't bother making friends with the neighbors...litigation costs get figured into your hardship appeal. Like the saying goes, "You got to break some eggs to make some scrambled eggs".

Disregard those Stop Work Orders. Go ahead with the 'remedial' foundation work. It's all good in the end.

I didn't know you could get an order of protection against a contractor? Looks like someone's pouring salt in the wounds of this poor developer. Just another Domestic Dispute.

Congratulations! The place looks just bad enough so someone from the B.S.A. will feel sorry for you.

Meenakshi Srinivasan, the chairperson of the B.S.A., describes their goal as "working with City government to interpret the regulations wisely and with an understanding of the needs of the citizens and developers alike to create an environment where everyone can flourish, where business finds its needs met and residents can find reasonable housing in a safe, pleasant and healthy environment." Where is the wisdom in rewarding a developer and his building team for its unsafe, disruptive, constuction practices, and well, just plain poor business sense? The needs of the community seem to be irrevelent when compared to the wants of the developer to make a substantial profit. In the end the real question should not have been whether the building might be vested under the old zoning, but whether it should be allowed to be built at all.

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 17th, 2006

All quiet on the Western Front. Work continues on the Eastern lot line that borders on the Memorial Baptist Church's side garden.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Storm Studies June 1st 2006

Spectacular thunderstorm as witnessed over the roof top silhouette of the 8th Avenue (14th Regiment) Armory. Using a digital video camera I was able to isolate the exact frame as the sky became illuminated with the lightening's flash. A weird purple haze in some. A super white bright daylight in others.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Foundation Works?

I am not an engineer. I really don't have any experience designing building foundations. The sum of my knowledge has been gleaned from a handful of internet searches. My longtime marriage to a Foundations Designer, in this case, seems to be of little value. Though I can rattle off the bra sizes of many of my wife's friends, the design and construction of supportive undergarments (bras, waist nippers, body briefers and the like) doesn't have very much in common with building an underground parking garage. I have not seen the actual building plans, but comparing steel pilings to underwires is a little bit of a stretch. Speaking of the "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia" an interesting side note. In 1688 Sir Isaac Newton, an infamous cross-dresser for his time, created an alternative theory specifically dealing with corsetry, gravitational attraction, and terrestrial bodies, but it was never published. One of sciences little known "Theories in Crisis" theories. Wern't we talking about parking garages? It's amazing how all my conversations somehow end up in discussions about women's underwear.

I think we lost our way after my mentioning my lack of knowledge. But the lack of knowledge, in general, has never stopped the vast majority of building contractors working in Brooklyn today. Hyperbole? Let's not get our undies in a bundle. Excavating, building forms, bending re-bar and pouring cement goes on all the time. What about pilings being bored the depth of a four story building? Now that's something different for our neighborhood. Here goes my attempt at explaining the process that I have been observing for the last few months.

There is a constant whirling hum in the space between my ears. Every few minutes the hum stops for a few seconds and then there is this bone jarringly loud Ca Chang, Ca Chang sound of rotating metal machine parts being violently forced to stop, as if against their will, and then run in the opposite direction. The whirling/whining hum is actually that of the spinning drill shaft of the IMT AF80 Drilling Rig boring holes some 60 feet deep in anticipation of the placement of the hollow steel tube foundation pilings.

The pounding thud that interrupts the hum comes from its auger, a cork-screw like device with extended horizontal plates. The auger is bored into the ground, collecting soil like a spiral shovel, and then raised up and out of the hole. The thud is the noise the drill shaft makes as it is rotated in the opposite direction at the surface and then stopped, rotated again and stopped, not unlike the actions of a giant hairy robot dog exiting a body of water. Sometime the soil sticks to the blades and then you hear Ca Chang, Ca Chang, Ca Chang, Ca chang, Ca Chang, until the excavated material finally gives up its hold.
This symphony goes on 5 days a week, 7am until 6pm each week day.

Accompanying these noises is a what I can only describe as an Earth shaking shudder. A house shiver. The glass of water on the table vibrates like a scene from the movie Jurassic Park. We see the tiny waves in the puddle, moments before we see the 7 ton backhoe jump from the jungle and smash the steel pile into the Earth,.
It's a predictable little Earthquake: The cracking sound after the lightening flash. The Shoc-o Loc-a, Loc-a, always follows the BOOM by a second or so. A half dozen of my neighbors all feel it. Some have complained. I am amazed at how my baby can now nap right through it.

Bored pilings, according to the "literature" are more desirable in city areas because driven piles require heavy equipment and hammers that produce a level of noise and vibration that is simply not tolerated close to where people live. I remember the summer they used pile drivers at the 1638 Eight Avenue development site. Needless to say the neighbors on Windsor Place were not happy.

In general, construction methods depend on the geology of the site. Glacial sands, heavy clays, and the presence of water make a difference. So what type of foundation system are they using for the Armory Plaza? It doesn't look like a SECANT WALL. Maybe it's some modified form of a secant wall.

Secant foundation walls consist of overlapping primary and secondary pilings. The overlap or interlock acts as a barrier to prevent the migration of ground water between the piles as there is no space between the pilings at all. Usually before one starts to bore holes for Secant Walls, a ground level cement template is constructed in order to maintain perfect spacing and alignment. The wall is constructed by drilling alternating shafts and then backstepping to drill the intervening shafts in order to interlock the two adjacent shafts. Every second shaft is reinforced usually with wide flanged steel sections or rebar steel cages. The reinforced shafts are called the primaries or king piles. The alternate shafts, which are not reinforced, are called secondaries. The drilling sequence typically calls for the intermediates to be drilled first, so the reinforcing of the primary piles will not be compromised by subsequent drilling. The concrete used for the secondary piles is usually lean concrete; to remain soft enough for the drilling and interlocking of the primary shafts. The primaries are usually poured with hard structural concrete.

On our site, hollow metal tubes some 60 feet long are being used without any template before drilling. This is how the tubes are being installed. The drilling rig bores the hole. The on-site crane lifts and then lowers the steel piling into the hole. They are being manually aligned with the previous pile so that it is more or less touching its neighbor. The back-hoe then pounds the piling in the final few feet with the bucket arm. The pile is welded to a previously installed pile before moving on to the next. Is this some modified form of contiguous piling foundation? Contiguous walls often have some open space or small gaps between adjacent piles. The size of this spacing is determined by the nature of the soils and if there is significant ground water present. Cement grout is often injected under high pressure behind the piles to fill in the gaps. Sometimes the steel pipes are only temporary, serving as place holders until the cement can be poured. The steel tubes prevent the bored holes from caving in until they can be carefully removed while the cement is being poured. I don't think that this will be the case. I think the pilings will be left in place and used for both the walls of the basement and as a footing for the building. We will have to wait and see how their system will accommodate the vertical loads for the future building as well as a permanent means of retaining the sides of the basement during the excavation. Recently another back yard garden began to drop into one of the holes as it was being bored. They lost a considerable amount of plantings as well as their cedar fence.

A group of neighbors who live along the building site, sent a letter on June 9th to Magdi Mossad, our new DoB Borough Commissioner containing a list of our worries and objections about what has been going on at the site. Mr. Mossad has extensive engineering experience and it is our hope, that, if there is anything fishy going on he will find it. With the indispensable help of a local architect who has taken our case and many other cases in the area pro bono, we listed several things that seem to be outside of the law. One point our architect found disturbing was that only two borings for SOIL BEARING TESTS were filed with the foundation plans and that they only went as far as 36 feet deep. One boring test is required for every 2500 sq. feet and the lot being a little over 12,000 sq.ft. would require a total of 5 boring tests. Also the depth of the borings should extend below the deepest part of the excavation by no less than 25 feet. Our calculations would then have them testing to a depth of at least 80 feet. Time will tell what affects this 100'x100' concrete "dam" will have on the ground water. There is already evidence that the borings on the Eastern side of the lot have hit water.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How Henry Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

Every girls got to have her dreams...crushed! Word has come down from someone who has seen the latest drawings for the future Armory Plaza, that we shouldn't expect much more from Bricolage Designs than the usual, Early 21st Century Fedders School gulag. (Buildings designed according to the "Fedders School" have the obligatory namesake air conditioner vent grill placed beneith undersized windows.) It will no doubt be a twin copy of the Deadwood Heights 9 story beauty built at 266 22nd Street in 2004. In this case the copy is much more dwarf like in appearance. Shorter, with a lot less poise and grace than 266, something not even an intern from Methodist Hospital would want to live in.

The developer, Mr. Locicero, may be more interested in what's built below the surface than what is left standing above it, specifically his three levels of underground parking. There is still hope. Bricolage and Locicero could bring starchitect Richard Meier on board to jazz up the Armory Plaza's cellar space.
A rumor that Meier and Radusky are collaborating on the parking garage has yet to be substantiated.
Area expeditors have pre-filed plans for an underground parking facility featuring glass curtain walls, that will provide 360 degrees of unobstructed subterranean river front views. Prices for condo parking spaces could reach $1200/foot, a first for Brooklyn. According to a Corcoran minion, Gimli, son of Glon, has already reserved a space.