Accessibility links


Company Gets Up Close and Personal With Skyscrapers

Historic landmark buildings, museums, the United States Capitol - all seen from top to bottom just inches from one’s face. To get there you have to be an engineer, an archaeologist, and part-daredevil.

It may look like fun, but this is serious business. One team from the company “Vertical Access” is preparing to survey the exterior of a 37-story Wall Street building.

Literally climbing the walls is the cheapest way for engineers and architects to monitor a building’s rehabilitation and upkeep.

Evan Kopelson, a rope technician, partner and architectural conservator, says it takes a special person to do this work.

"[You need to] have the knowledge and interest in construction and in buildings as well as the general safety, demeanor and awareness for doing work at heights or being on a rope," said Kopelson.

New York City requires such an assessment at least every five years.

That’s why Berta de Miguel was hired. She is an architect and rock climber from Spain. Like the nine other technicians, Berta is loaded with a computer, tools, and a camera to record trouble spots. She’s looking for cracks, loose bricks or stone, sealant around windows, general wear and tear.

“And, if I see any condition that needs to be upgraded, such as a crack, exposed or missing bricks or may need repairs or those kind of things, I will document that," she said.

It's an enviable view, but when they're up, the technicians are all business.

“I don’t spend a lot of time looking around. Although you do get some amazing views when you do look around," said Kopelson.

Founding partner Ken Diebolt says safety is number one.

“It looks scary, but the system is redundant at every level. We are trained by certified third-party evaluators every three years, we practice rescues, self-rescues, rescues for other personnel," he said. "We pay a lot of attention to public safety, which really a significant issue along with our own workers safety."

“A lot of work we do involves existing buildings and evaluating their condition. We have to get to a lot of hard to reach places and Vertical Access is the best company to do that,” said engineer Rebecca Buntrock, who is with Robert Silman Associates, a structural engineering company that uses Vertical Access.

“[We] hired them to come and to finish scoping out the entire building so we know exactly where, what work is needed, where we have to go, where should we focus on and helps with lead times for critical materials,” said Jennifer Murphy, with FS Project Management, that also has a contract with Vertical Access.

Vertical Access may someday turn to drones for work like this, but for now gauging the health of a building's outsides requires the human touch, and a love of heights.