Monday, December 5, 2011

Critical Thinking in Histo Presto

Critical thinking is of value in how we approach issues of Means and Methods in the hands-on practice of conservation of the built environment.

It encourages curiosity as well as a willingness to question our own acquired assumptions and beliefs before we move forward and touch, cut, alter, interface with and otherwise adjust heritage fabric.

Those who have a tendency to avoid failure tend to ask many diverse questions and to move forward in incremental steps. Think, then verify, cautiously.

But there comes a point where the pattern of question and verification needs to be set aside and an action taken. A goal is to discover the optimal point of invasive action. Not too far to one side or the other, a balance.

To have a good team helps.

It is at this point where one of us takes the screwdriver and puts it in the electric socket in hopes that the current was actually turned off.

Work safe.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coffee & Bagel, NYC, October

Coffee & Bagel NYC
October 26th, 8:30 to 10:30 am

at the

Neighborhood Preservation Center
232 East 11th Street, NY, NY 10003 [map]

Hosted by: The Growth Coach of New York, John Stahl.

Please RSVP to John Stahl

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reaching Through the Shadow

Our friend, the architect Jim Rhodes, has been working on design of a 9/11 memorial. Here is a video that very nicely communicates the conceptualization and design work. An inspiration and affirmation of our day.

What I particularly enjoy about the design of this memorial is that the interpretation will always be accessible.

This is in contrast to such structures as the Old Stone Mill in Newport, RI.

A while back on a visit to the mill I remarked to our group, as we contemplated a bid on repairs, that we ourselves could build a funky masonry structure with all sorts of odd elements to it, stones sticking out here and there and geometric alignments with the nose on the Face on Mars... and 300 years hence people would stand and look at what we done here with our time on the planet and wonder what in good graces was in our heads, if anything. My personal vision to construct a giant brick bear out of old salvaged bricks in the side yard out near the street. Such a project, as with a 10,000 year clock, could fuel much speculation of future generations and lead to the creation of currently unknown religions and the comfort of other movements of contemplation.

So, with Jim's memorial design I am very pleased that all of the elements in the composition feed smoothly and clearly into an accessible narrative.

And then, I also like this video of the movement of the steel beam. The convoy on the highway with the flatbed truck in the lead, the flag draped beam, and the lights flashing on the vehicles behind must have been an eye turner. It would certainly turn my eye.

As many will know I like to play with stone and a need of the memorial construction is to split a large boulder of basalt. I and a few other friends have been feeding in to Jim our knowledge of precision stone splitting.

But I have another story to tell here, about steel.

One of our former employees. in a former company, went down to Ground Zero on 9/12 and got himself signed up with the Iron Workers. I always called him the ROMANTIC when he worked for us. His spirit of volunteerism certainly was in a romantic spirit. He spent the duration of the 'clean up' at work to cut steel beams. At the ceremony of the last column to be cut it was he that worked the torch.

The iron workers were in the habit to cut out pieces of steel, many of them in the form of crosses. After all was said and done he came back to visit us in our shop with a basket full of cut pieces.

This here is my piece of remembrance.
Lastly, I have always been moved by my friend Michael Drummond Davidson's account of his 9/11 experience published in the Gator Springs Gazette.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Favorite Polish Dutchmen

To hide a repair to historic fabric is to graffiti under another name.
In the USA in a repair to historic fabric the tendency, what I contend is an illusion of falsity, is to hide the repair.

I, for one, take a delight to see repairs that are obvious and that shout out that they are an historical intervention. They took place at a time with materials and technique that we can read as strongly as any patina. If we have the eyes. All within themselves they become as micro-fictions to the overall narrative of the entire built landscape.

Should the bullet holes be covered over any more than the thorns?

The clean lines, the invisibility of matched color, the exact tone of surface to make the repair invisible reveals a preservation philosophy driven by an abstract bureaucratic aesthetic of rule that has lost respect for the innate qualities of the material, of nature and of the environment that we exist within.

These Polish dutchmen, for me, illustrate in their detail and over-profiles, in the lack of their precision to hide, an understanding of the long-time of an old culture. They reveal a sensitivity to the temporal nature of the traditional tradesperson who yesterday and today had a hand to touch and was not a trickster made to hide their smile.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Hammer in Hand: An e-newsletter from Preservation Delaware devoted to hands-on preservation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

IPTW 2011 Video, Random Scenes

Monday, August 22, 2011

Patrick's Rock

Patrick Kennedy at the IPTW in Lancaster, PA in the silent auction won the chunk of rock that I had brought to the event. I promised that I would tell Patrick a bit about the rock since he had to carry it all the way home back to KY.

This is most likely Tuckahoe Marble. If it is then it originated from a now closed quarry hole in the ground north of New York City in Westchester County. This stone represents one of the earliest marbles commonly used in America and predates the discovery of marbles in Vermont. There is a whole lot of history associated with this stone.
It is a stone that was used in the 19th c on a number of buildings, most prominently Tweed Courthouse (connected to the political corruption of the Tweed Ring), Brooklyn Borough Hall, Grace Episcopal Church (where Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren were married), the Washington Memorial Arch and Federal Hall. Over the years I have worked on several facades and structures that have this marble in it.

This particular chunk came from a demolition underway at Snug Harbor Cultural & Botanical Gardens on Staten Island. This site, comprised of a complex of buildings, was formerly known as Sailor's Snug Harbor, a 19th c haven for worn out and retired sailors. Currently a National Historic Landmark. This chunk was a portion of a much larger earth, concrete and stone removal underway and was quickly being loaded into a dump truck to be hauled off to a landfill. We were working on a nearby building when I managed to grab a piece before it got loaded and hauled off.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thomas E. Bodine

Bill Gould at the Coffee & Bagel: Providence, RI 08/19/2011 shares: "Thomas' occupation was that of a painter. He also did graining and gilding. A person purchased Thomas E. Bodine's painters tool box at a Massachusetts antiques auction in 2005. The tool box was filled with his graining and gilding tools and brushes. The "proof" that it was Thomas' tool box: there are two places where it is signed by Thomas. In the tool box, there was also a glass bottle with Bordentown written on it and a piece of glassine envelope wrapped around a sample number plate."

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Gap? At the IPTW There is No GAP - Only Kool People!

Patrick Kennedy and Duffy Hoffman at IPTW 2011, Lancaster, PA

While recently at the IPTW in a conversation in line for dinner I was reminded of a passage I had once read in a book that described the history of the profession of architecture in America. We had been talking about the trend for specifications for things like mortar mixes to go from one sentence in the old days to several pages these days.

It seems that there are so many reasons in our modern culture to not trust each other and to not bother to get to know each other before we are all thrown in to work together... or as the case may be enough of the time to not work very well together at all. Obviously we need more instructions because they keep us insulated like a wall of granite away from the messiness to engage with each other face to face in the field in any sort of an harmonious work team.

Is it much better that there be a gap and a construction bible that tells us so?

“Accounts of building collapses caused by the shoddy work of unscrupulous builders and speculators filled the pages of the first professional architectural journals. The subtext was the promotion of the architectural profession as the only safe¬guard against incidents like the collapse of a Massachusetts mill in the 186os where the builder had used sand rather than mortar. A verse entitled "Death, the Builder" in the Architects' and Mechanics' Journal for 1860 attacked speculators and builders who maximized their profits and endangered the public with flimsy construction. Accompanying the verses was a drawing of a building mason as the grim reaper who serves the "lords of enterprise" by making the wall look strong; the blood and bones of his victims ultimately bind the wall. In the background the speculator, Shylockian with his greasy hair and hooked nose, turns away, clutching his bag of coins. Builders were responsible, the professional press also reported, for illness as well as injury and death. The American Architect and Building News published an account of a builder who refused to spend three hundred dollars to connect soil pipes to street drains. As a result, raw sewage discharged into the party walls, spreading illness throughout an entire residential block. Meanwhile, speculative builders who used architects' plans for their residential developments and discountenanced such deadly economics earned praise from the American Architect editors.” From Craft to Profession, The Practice of Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America, Mary N. Woods, p 150.

I was raised in a family of trades and though the schools did their best to dissuade me from pursuit of a building trade my natural inclination to build, and to read books and think for myself, won out in the long run.

Something that comes up quite often, particularly when I am around architects that fancy they are a separate form of human from the trades, and when they get into a gaggle of a group, invariably there is the pronouncement that there is a GAP between the architectural professions and the building trades. What I have come to understand from a lifetime of experience is that there is no gap at all, but there is a need for some people to make out that there is a gap as they have a career investment to make up a difference where in point of fact there is none.

Without a GAP, and a really big one that is to behold grand and magnificent with balloons and frilled lightning struck whistle moonshine bubbling a brass band and confetti streaming out of their earballs they are empty husks like the Nowhere Man.

Flim flam.

Mary Woods has more to say in her book on the subject of a need for a gap than the above paragraph.

But it is the self-serving propaganda to paint the builders and contractors as louts who would not use mortar but sand to build a masonry building, in the 19th century this was promoted in public media no less, it is the one fact from the long book that has welded itself to my brainpan. Since reading this book in 1999, and writing a review of it for the APTI Bulletin (it has the word CRAFT in it and I think they sent it me to review by mistake), my observation of this need of some people to promote a gap has stuck with me to want to figure it out. Do they need help? Is there a cure?

The way this gap myth operates is that once in a while someone falls in to believe that there is a gap and if they are sweet folks they try to do up some anxious remedy about it. Often enough this consists to start a project to put together a manual on how to build a thing... a thing maybe like stone walls or a log synagogue.

The focus is on what the trades do with their hands, their tools and their materials. Some discerning person will always jump up and say, “Oh, but she lands her hammer at the wrong angle and she should turn it ¾ of a degree at the 15th second of the swing.” What those who try to erase the gap end up doing in a focus on tools, techniques and materials is that they make the non-gap look even more like an expansive wide yawning earthquake tsunami volcanic irradiated gap that can never ever be bridged... for the fact that the poor architect probably does not even know how to hold a hammer, let alone swing it and hit a nail without bending it over. Why make them feel bad by pointing out their lesser talents? Why make them stress their imagination to pretend that they are armchair blacksmiths?

Or, maybe the trades need a gap cross-over book that shows how to draw a line with AutoCAD. Would this serve much better than to read an autobiography?

Yet there is really no reason to single out the physically challenged as being less worthy as long as they stop with the pretension that there is a gap.

Where it all vanishes though is when we get to know each other as people -- which is what really happens at an IPTW despite however much anyone may actually try to learn how to solder a copper seam properly. In the hot sun we share bottles of cold water. In the evening we share bottles... and bowls of salted almonds. It is this gathering of community, architects and trades all dressed in grub, where we come to understand that we don’t need no stinkin’ gap. That time when we suddenly all realize that we are here on the planet on the same day under the same sun as each other and that if we work together with our unique and individual differences of character and personality and common interest to fix old buildings good that so much more interesting things can be accomplished.

As they say on the Subway, "Watch the gap."

IPTW 2011 Photos

IPTW 2011 Flicker Slide Show

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August: Coffee & Bagel, Providence, RI

Who: Heritage Restoration, Inc.
Where: 122 Manton Ave, Unit 622. Tower on the right, 2nd floor.
When: August 19th, 2011 at 9AM
RSVP: Rob Cagnetta @ 401-490-0888 or

The PTN “Shop Stop” - A Regional Preservation Gathering

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Helifix Patch Pins

More vids at ‪Follett-PCLS Channel‬‏ - YouTube Please subscribe.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PCLS Interview: Marek Baranski, Ph.D., M.Arch

I first met Marek Baranski some 16 years ago when he was introduced to me through our mutual friend and business associate Witold Karwowski. Marek was then in the United States to represent the Polish Ministry of Culture. As I recall he was attending a Restoration & Renovation Show (now known as the Traditional Building Exposition and Conference) in Boston in search of business connections between Poland and the United States in the historic preservation industry.

Subsequent to our first meeting Marek has made numerous visits to North America. On occasion he has brought with him a number of Polish conservators and associates in the heritage conservation network that radiates out into the world from Poland. Likewise I have with Witold and other associates made to date three trips to Poland.

My first trip was the one where I spent four days in cardiac intensive care in a hospital in Szczecin. That was an education.

The second trip was involved with the Annihilated Heritage project related to reconstruction of a 17th century log and timber Zabludow synagogue at a skansen near to Bialystok. That trip included an intensive tour of historic sacred sites, churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the Podlaskie Voivodeship. For me the the log and timber synagogues were like rocket science in log building when compared to the same era of work on rectangular-boxes with a trussed roof of Christian churches in the region. It was on this trip that I became intensively interested in historic preservation issues related to Chernobyl.

The third trip was for a representative group of Americans to present at a preservation conference in Krakow. This junket included Marek leading with whirlwind gusto a private tour of historic sites scattered around the countryside between Warsaw and Krakow. Having worked for a time after High School at a salt mine in the Finger Lakes Region of NY State I enjoyed the tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Of all places that I have visited in Poland I fell in love with Kazimierz Dolny along the Vistula River with the old buildings, igneous cobble streets and stone castle on the hill.

Marek has attended a number of conferences and events in North America. He has spoken at APTI conferences (notably the one in Montreal in 2008 where the film Srebrne Wrota that documents the reconstruction of the Silver Gate of St. Sophia of Kiev was shown) and Marek has presented at several Preservation Trades Network IPTW events as well as participated in several Traditional Building events.

It was in October 2001 at the IPTW held at Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn when Marek as a gesture of solidarity with the newly stunned Americans, right after 9/11, proposed an American contingent of timber framers and log builders to visit Poland for a workshop on the Annihilated Heritage for the Zabludow Synagogue. The Zabludow Synagogue project is a long and complicated story that continues to this day.

This interview was recorded on the event of Marek making a presentation in Philadelphia. It is shortly after his six year tenure as CEO of PPKZ. Trivia related to this particular trip is that Marek on behalf of the son of an associate in Poland returned from the United States with a Lego Death Star. If you are not familiar with this object suffice it to say that it comes in a very very large box. Much larger than two standard suitcases in my estimation.

PPKZ was the organization that at one time employed approximately 14,000 people and was responsible for the reconstruction of destroyed historic and heritage sites throughout Poland, most notably Old Town Warsaw. PPKZ included a widely diverse working group consisting of archeologists, architects, planners, stonemasons, carpenters and conservators. Subsequent to perestroika the network and connections of PPKZ became fragmented at the time of Marek's tenure the organization was down to roughly 200 people, but with a vast network of connections.

Marek now has his own firm, of which we are associated, for which you can find information here. Working with our business associate Witold Karwowski we provide support and representation for Marek on his various visits to America, as he so generously provides his time, support and hospitality to us when we visit Poland. If you have an interest to work with Marek and his associates, or would like to know when he will next make a visit to North America, then please connect with us.

There are 6 videos in a series.... each of less than 10 minutes in length.

Introduction, Those Stones, The Winchester Rifle, To Begin

The Over Material Approach

Chopin Birthplace, Salt Mine, Wyckoff House. Wyckoff House and More

Doors to Nowhere, Preservation Poland vs USA, Silver Gate of Kiev

Silver Gate of Kiev, New Company, PPKZ

PPKZ to Mount Everest

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ruminations on RFPs 001

One cannot get the best response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) just because one believes that it will happen – although that desire must come first. A person must communicate their needs into words and actions. This is the RFP – a document that puts needs into words and actions. “We need this and that done. Could you please provide us a proposal?” If one wants a good response to an RFP then the author(s) must be pro-active in their attempt to compose a document that will be clear, understood and well received by the intended recipients of the RFP.

It is not enough that the author understands what they have assembled; it is necessary for an RFP to be effective that the recipients of the RFP have a reasonable opportunity to understand what is intended to be communicated.

Unlike with a fiction story read for enjoyment and subject to a wide variety of personal interpretation an RFP is a document that by intent is designed to solicit an active and focused reaction. The intent of an RFP is that someone will read it, understand it well enough, and be able to respond with a proposal.

An RFP is a call for someone to do something in response.

The quality of the response to an RFP will be conditioned by the quality of the RFP to begin with. To compose a poor RFP, one that leaves out information that may be essential to the understanding of the recipient, is to invite a low quality of response.

If we ask someone to do something, which is essentially what an RFP does, it asks for someone to respond, this creates a one-sided negotiation where the person asked to do something will inevitably wonder what is in it for them. “If I respond to this RFP what is the likely result that it will be to my benefit and justify the expense of my time and resources for me to respond?”

If the balance of this knee-jerk Return on Investment (ROI) analysis comes up that there will be negligible benefit to the recipient in their response to an RFP then there will be no response. The action desired and put into play by the expense of time and resources on the part of the author will go to naught as nobody will be persuaded to do what the RFP requests. Nobody will respond.

That is one extreme and it occurs where there are situations where projects are put out for bid and there are no bidders. It is not necessarily in these cases that nobody wants to do the project or would not be capable of doing it; it can quite simply be that nothing was communicated in the RFP to persuade recipients to want to respond.

In a case let us say where a public agency regularly issues RFPs that are inadequate in the content of their information and where there is a patterned reputation of not answering questions put forward by informed and qualified recipients, then the tendency is, if there is anything better to do, for the more informed and qualified recipients to ignore the RFPs. This is an example of a situation where an individual author could assemble a very competent RFP and it be ignored for the fact that the reputation of the agency is not a very good one.

There are a whole lot of highly qualified practitioners in the historic preservation industry who will not even consider to look at work from public agencies in part because of the poor quality of the RFPs combined with a reputation for difficult to survive business practices. This is not to say that there are not plenty of people that will respond to the RFPs as much as to reinforce that a poor quality of RFP invites a poor quality of response.

An RFP needs at least two elements:

-- A description of what is needed.
-- An indication of the form of the response that is desired.

These may seem like very obvious elements but it is surprising how often one or the other, or both, is not included in an RFP.

It also quite often helps to include information as to why something is being asked for.

On historic projects we very much appreciate when the author of the RFP has assembled and provides a package on the history of the site. We enjoy it even more when provided with previous investigation reports from other design teams. If the author then includes a brief summary of why they are looking to do what they are looking to do then we tend to feel an investment to help them reach their goal, simply to show that they trust to let us in on what they need to accomplish and why it is important.

A good RFP in historic preservation reinforces that all players, the author and the recipients, have the mutual respect that everyone cares about a good outcome. If you care that we care then we will care even more.

If you want an RFP to work then regardless of any other element to the communication show that you care. Do a good job to communicate the essential elements in your RFP and prove that you give a damn.

The response to a good RFP is rarely only about cost and when cost is the only driving factor of a project then the worse an RFP is constructed the more likely the better it will attract cheap -- dumb people that have no clue what they are doing but are hungry tend to go cheap. The question though is cheaper for what? Maxim here is, be careful what you ask for. Or, know what you ask for and be very clear about it.

Too many RFPs that we get for historic projects never say anything about the history of the site. The focus of the author is on their interest, what is in their trance-head, what it is that they need done, and not on the goal to attract the interest of the respondent. It is like with authors of fiction stories who do not care if anyone on the planet now or forever gets it. They get it just fine, no bother, and the remainder of us can suffer, or go do something else like deep sea fishing.

One thing that we try to do when we receive an RFP is figure out if what is being asked for is anything that we can actually do. If the initial indication that we get from an RFP is that there is no chance in hell that we will succeed in a win-win with the project, that there is in the RFP a clear indication of something being asked that we can excel at, that we can provide our best product and response, then we do not want to be involved.

I say that because when a project goes sour we usually hate it terribly, end up not liking everyone involved, and have trouble to get rightly paid. I know this the hard way from having responded to all sorts of really terrible RFPs.

Beside all that, the time taken to read, evaluate and respond to an RFP is usually a loss. The more complex, difficult, or unmanageable an RFP the greater the loss, taking into consideration that no risk advanced leads to no gain. Then again, no risk advanced rarely leads to a negative loss.

If you really want to get me with an RFP then it would have a cover letter to go something like this:

Dear Ken,

We understand that you come from a family of electricians and that you were called Sparky. We see that you have been involved in three projects closely related to Thomas Edison. Edison Barn #11 at the Edison Memorial site that you moved from Greenfield Village, your assistance in the investigation work at the Edison Memorial Tower and that schoolhouse from Edison’s iron mine that you helped save and got turned into a Hungarian cultural center when everyone else thought it was a piece of junk. In respect of this we have been referred by one of our board members, Nathaniel Woodhull to send you the attached RFP for an on-site facsimile reconstruction of Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower.

Friends of Tesla

Now, the RFP itself for this project can be terribly structured but I will certainly perk up to respond not so much due to the ego stroking as that the author took the time to figure out who they were sending the RFP to and to align their need and their project with a relevance to our perceived ability and interest.

A closer on cost... if with an RFP well made you capture the imagination of a preservationist who has a passion quite often they will go out of their way to cut their costs so low that they can't survive on the work... but they simply love to do that.

Keep in mind it is not the number of dollars that is important, it is what you get for the dollar.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Got Goop? IPTW 2011

IPTW 2011, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, August 2-6, 2011

At this one PTN event we had in Delaware was where Glenn started on a rant about the conversion of trees into timbers. His education is in political science but his love is in timber framing. Glenn went on for a good twenty or thirty minutes with a small group of us hangers-on to move back through the steps of how timber frame materials come to the hands of the trades. Glenn claims he does not remember any of this. I believe that he does not remember -- but I certainly do remember as I was a captive of his audience.

I have always been interested in where the materials that we work with in our projects come from, how they get to us, and what are the networks of business and delivery systems that bring them into our environment.

I got in a bit of a controversy when I wrote a letter to the newspaper about our nearby Home Depot possibly closing. I had already seen it wipe out all of the small hardware stores and we would be left with no place to buy anything.

A fellow at a local lumber yard did not like what I had to say and claimed that real contractors don't shop at Home Depot.

Big box stores create controversy for how they push out small and local suppliers. I shot back that I thought I was for real a contractor and on a mahogany and lead-coated copper lined set of box gutters we had built for an historic site in Brooklyn I listed all of the sources of our materials. The project was paid for by a grant from Lowes, and we did buy a few of the materials at Home Depot. The mahogany came from a local lumber yard. The little copper nails we bought off the internet.

We invite all hecklers.

Ken Follett and Glenn James – Got Goop?
Tell us how you got it. Where do our materials that we work with come from? How do we go about procuring them? This is intended as a group discussion and not a presentation. Participants are expected to come with their own examples and questions about where their materials come from as it relates to their trade interest. Glenn James: Will focus on conversion of raw materials into usable building elements. Ken Follett: Will talk about why he likes to shop at WalMart, Home Depot and Lowes and why you can too. The intent of the session is to explore the supply lines that follow back to their sources for the materials that we use in our historic conservation work. If we can't get it then we can't use it, and if we can get it sometimes we wish we did not have to use it. What is your problem?

Ken Follett, Owner, PreCon LogStrat, LLC
Mastic Beach, New York
Ken Follett has been active in the construction and contract business for more than thirty-five years, with specific experience in historic conservation, exterior fa├žade maintenance and waterproofing for the last twenty-five. Projects, primarily in the NYC environment, have included work at the Brick House at Philip Johnson's Glass House (LSA. National Trust), High Bridge (JBC, LSA, TransSystems), Carnegie Hall, Grand Central Terminal (Bovis/LaSalle Partners), West Point Military Academy (EYP), City Center (BCA), New Amsterdam Theater (Tishman/Disney), Horace Greeley Barn, Chrysler Building (TT), General Motors Building, Cable Building, Puck Building, Huntington Hilton (Arnold Associates), Neiman Marcus (White Plains, NY), Edison Building #11 relocation (Edison Foundation/NPS, BBB), Edison Memorial Tower (FMG), and the award winning restoration of the Barnes & Noble headquarters at NYC Union Square (LSA, project received awards from Municipal Art Society, Victorian Society, and NYS Parks –SHPO 1996). As former executive vice-president and partner (1987-2002) of Apple Restoration & Waterproofing, Inc., a specialty restoration-contracting firm, Mr. Follett was actively involved in the varied tasks of marketing, estimating, business development and project management on small and large historic preservation and exterior maintenance related projects. Varied exterior envelope and heritage conservation projects ranged from $20,000 to $6M in scope.

Glenn James, Owner, Craftwright, Inc.
Westminster, Maryland
Glenn Allen James has been a woodworker since childhood and in business since 1983. After graduating college and discovering his passion for historic building techniques he established Craftwright and began producing custom-handcrafted timber frame structures, including barns, homes, chapels, museums and home additions. Craftwright also has restored many antique and historic timber frames structures throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Sand for Historic Mortar

On the premise that historic sand is local.

Duffy Hoffman A-Z Window Sash

Our friend Duffy Hoffman has been working on a DVD and workbook to instruct on wood window sash repair.

Duffy has always been hyper and moves along in his presentation sometimes at warp speed. One needs to either know a bit about wood window restoration, or want to know a whole lot about wood window restoration and play his DVD over several times to capture the details of the wealth of lessons provided.

Duffy is also a jazz drummer and the music on this promo vid is original.

Some years back a group of us purchased Duffy's giant steam box (5' x 10' double shelves, stainless steel}. It is one hell of a fine machine and works real well for shutter work.

Window Preservation Summit: Pine Mountain, promo

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lessons in Project Management

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sand in Mortar

A fine example of how it is the composition and mix of an aggregate that gives character and color to a brick mortar.
From the Greenwich, CT public library.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Strategic Psychological Intelligence

From Selling Power
Kerry Sulkowicz, Founder and Principal, The Boswell Group

Though this video is related to sales activity the exposition of the concepts portrays elements of a B2B service that we provide as a strategic consultant on projects. Quite often our associate in business will provide us a description of the players to a scenario where they are having a difficulty and based on our questions we respond with perspectives and tools with which our associate can better deal with the scenario.

It can be as simple as our responding, "Call them back and say no. Do not say anything else. Don't explain. Say no then say nothing. Let the target fill in their blanks." When the target asks why then tell them, "Because I said no." Be calm, don't be threatening, don't be emotional.

Often people do not really know why they are doing what they are doing and when you say no it can force them to step back and think about why they think that they need what they have asked for. In my example here, from an actual interaction with an associate, the goal is to let the target figure it out.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

John Weiss, Sr. died 07/02/2011

A memorial service will be held at the St. Stanislaus Church, 57-15 61st St., Maspeth, New York on Saturday, July 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM.

John Weiss, Sr., my good friend, mentor and former business partner, had been in poor health for more than a decade. He passed away due to a variety of health complications. He will be missed, and remembered by many for his kindness, patience, and willingness to share his trade knowledge with those around him and with those with whom he did business.

When I first met John in the early 1980's I had been assigned to work under him as a field supervisor on a project in White Plains that he was managing. His first thought on meeting me was, "What the hell are they doing to me now?" It was the beginning of a long friendship that for both of us led to a whole slew of curious adventures.

In his better lights John was always willing to play along with whatever games were afoot. He enjoyed time with children, and animals as he was always somewhat impish himself. It was often difficult to keep him out of trouble.

A child of Maspeth, Queens from a Polish-German background one character trait of John's has staid with me as the most valuable lesson. He had a blindness to ethnicity or race and he always saw past these false boundaries to reach to the core of an individual and encourage up their best merits to the fore. Through the years of our business partnership we held together a very mixed crew of employees and subcontractors of a multiplicity of race, nationality, background and life circumstance. Quite a few individuals John pulled up out of bad circumstances, supported, pushed, cajoled along and they remained loyal employees and friends for decades. In a few cases they moved on to steady and prosperous careers elsewhere in the construction industry. 

One time John walked around over near the Puck Building in Manhattan, back at a time when it was not exactly the safest place to walk around, a mugger came at him with a knife. The employee that was with him that day jumped in front of John and thwarted the attack. That was how it was with John. At times he could be a real pain but he had a very good heart.

He had a passion for dirt track auto sports, a passion he had inherited from his father, and one big trouble I could not help John with was when he drove a modified on a dirt track into a wall at 90 mph. This incident over time caused him considerable long-term health issues. For the remainder of his life he was in chronic pain. John, for all the years that I knew him, survived on coffee, twinkies, an ever-ready wry smile and chain-smoked Marlboros.

Here he is in one of our last shared adventures, a little shopping trip to the Home Depot where David and I brought John along for his advice.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Koolhaas or Kunstler?

This brief vid illustrates the sort of perspective on historic preservation as an engine of economic development, neighborhood and community revitalization that I intend when I urge that the modern architects, such as Rem Koolhaas "...should get out of their cloud and take this argument to the heart of Brooklyn and tell us what they see."

This is an approach of value in revival of many historic urban communities including restoration of Holy Cross in post-Katrina New Orleans. It may not be glamorous or monumental but it is the built environment serving the needs of life lived human to human.

Background on Koolhaas
An Architect’s Fear That Preservation Distorts
Inga Saffron: Is Historical Preservation Strangling Cities?
NY Landmarks Conservancy weighs in -- “Cronocaos” or “Crockocaos?” Rem Koolhaas vs. Preservation

Other Views
Death by Nostalgia
Historic Preservation and Our Cities

And for a considerably different view, James H Kunstler is someone that I have been paying attention to for more than a decade now. My having spent 12 years at 5 hours per day commuting, driving alone on the Long Island Expressway, usually in the darkness of early morning or early night, it really bugs me that we do not have a world built where we can afford to live near where we work.

LinkedIn Discussions related to the Rem Koolhaas exhibition at the Group: Means, Methods & Materials for Restoration of the Built Environment
Discussion thread started by Steve Stokowski
Discussion thread started by Jana Gross


Monday, June 6, 2011

Networking: Fishing from CT takes me Back Home

International Concrete Restoration Institute - CT chapter (ICRI-CT) 2nd annual fishing trip, June 3, 2011.

Though based on Long Island this year we have been doing a good bit of work in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I'm not quite sure why we are doing this but I am very happy to do so as the commute involves taking a ferry across the Long Island Sound. 

I characterize the ferry as 'the poor man's yatch'. I never regret the experience, even on dark rough night crossings in fog -- the bagpipes in the hold were fantastic. Though the ferry trips, either of the two available across the sound, take about an hour and a half they both cut off at least 3 hours of additional driving (with traffic), one way, which in a round trip can quickly add up to 6 hours on the road. 

So, on a day that I was working in CT I was invited as a guest to a monthly meeting of the ICRI-CT. 

There was a presentation on the use of Cintec anchors on a church steeple, a technology that I am quite interested and involved with in a number of different directions. Least of which being our work with our friend Witold Karwowski to help him build up his masonry drilling and anchor installation resources. I was invited to go on the ICRI-CT fishing trip.

Even though I live on Long Island, within a half mile of the Atlantic on the south shore halfway between Manhattan and Montauk the fact that the majority of my work career has been in NYC, and with way too much commuting time in my life, the career has not given me much opportunity to get to know neighbors -- with whom, the water people, I may on occasion go fishing -- but since I do not really know them very well I never do. So, as I enjoy the water, networking, spending time with friends, doing business, and fishing I immediately accepted Bill McGloin's (friend and ICRI-CT chapter president) invite. It had been a long time since I was out to fish on a party boat. (My last time being with the Extech staff out of the Great South Bay.)

The Friday morning, clear, no threat of rain or tornados, started out with a drive to Orient Point to catch the ferry to New London. This is about an hour and a half drive out to Riverhead then out on the upper road across the wine country of the North Fork. I always enjoy this relaxed trip... then again I tend to make the drive in off hours when the weekenders are not in force. Once on the ferry we moved out past Plum Island. I was wearing my Plum Island t-shirt. I made sure to check out that the light house is still intact on the island. Enjoyed the sun, read a book, then as one waits in a relaxed atmosphere, we arrived in New London. 

The trip on the ferry was a bit windy and colder than I expected so I ended up at Kohls to buy a pair of long pants. I then wandered my way w/ the GPS to Waterford, CT and just as I got real close and was convinvced that I was lost to find the Mijoy 747 at dock then Pat Morrissey called me on the cell. A jig and a jag in the road and under the bridge and I arrived, in time.

Introductions and the formality of making sure everyone was on board then we were off. 

The boat immediately churned off across the sound and headed south. We spent the next four hours or so floating around in Plum Gut, between Plum Island and Orient Point. I told Bill and Pat that next time they can meet me at the dock in Orient.

I caught a blue fish. 

Of some thirty or so people on the trip I believe that five (5) fish were caught and one person caught two. It seemed a bit surreal to me. I honestly did not expect to catch a fish. The last week I had been fighting a cold, and the pain that I get in my shoulder from time to time was killking me... so when I caught the fish my comment was, "This will make my wife happy." The boat hand, working at removing the hook and shad quipped, "It should make you happy!" 

But, going on a fishing trip is not about fishing (and my experience of the ICRI is not all about concrete, a whole lot else interesting goes on at the meetings). It is about the time spent doing something, or trying to do something, with friends and to meet and get to know new people. Much was gained from how we all learned to work together to untangle our lines. 

It is an experience that will come in handy when we face the next inevitable and unexpected but always anticipated problem on a project.

The way it works is that everyone stands on one side of the boat and when the boat stops moving then the Captain signals with a horn and everyone drops their line down to the bottom. Keep in mind the boat is probably rocking and as we stand there we dip down close to the water then rush up higher into the air. Hopefully everyone drops their line in unison but more often than not we are all out of sequence. 

As the boat drifts the lines tend to come together in pairs, or triplets, or quadruplets or worse. We all stand shoulder to shoulder. On occasion it is politic to stop and go grab a drink, a sandwich or some potatoe salad. The cell phones ring... I kept wondering if anyone would overboard their cell phone. On occasion someone catches a fish and everyone gets cheery. A crew member comes over and gafs the fish, throws it up on deck, then puts it into a burlap bag. Wham, bam. Then in a bit of time the boat drifts over near to Plum Island and the Captain blows the signal and everyone pulls their lines back up. There is more untangle that goes on here. 

Repeat, repeat, repeat. While all that drop and untangle is going on we have conversations about life, business, and how to get our clients to pay their invoices... stuff like that. Oh, yes, and I got to take video of a bit of the event.

Eventually the boat headed north back to the CT dock. I could have hung around and chatted more but I had to rush to catch the ferry back to Orient Point. A few weeks back I had worked a long day at Fort Adams in Newport, RI and made it away too late to catch the ferry and ended up overnight in a hotel in Mystic, CT. It was not such a bad outcome as the next morning I got to visit Fort Griswold, in Groton, CT. Where I took the pictures of the cannon ball furnace.

When you come into the port in New London there is a tall stone obelisk up on the eastern hill. Over the last year it has had pipe scaffold up around it, down now, but I had been curious about the project. But this night after fishing I wanted to get home.

On the ferry back I spent most of my time on the upper deck in the air and enjoyed the weather, the sunset, and as darkness came along the crescent moon.

One thing about landing at Orient at night is on the North Fork everything shuts down... and there is not a whole lot of everything. It is 'country' of sorts, very agrarian with a mix of weekenders and the full time residents. It was not until I reached to Riverhead that I found a McDonald's to catch a meal. Another thing about getting off the ferry in Orient is that, unless you hang back, you get stuck in a mess of vehicles that all try to get down a small road at once.

My wife was impressed with the bluefish. I cut off and buried the head beneath an heirloom tomato plant. The chickens enjoyed eating the guts. Yesterday I cooked the fillets up on the barbecue with tomatoes and white wine and it made for a real fine meal. 

On Friday it was a really long day but I had a hell of a good time of it.