Track 4: This New World: Preservation technology and emerging issues within our historic buildings and built landscapes

General Abstract

High-Resolution Photography Condition Survey of the U.S. Custom House Dome, Philadelphia PA

Monday, September 24
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC-106BC

The U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) Mid-Atlantic Region completed a high-resolution photography condition survey of the ornate rotunda dome at the U.S. Custom House in Philadelphia, PA. Opened in 1934, the U.S. Custom House is a 17-story Art Deco landmark in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood.

The dome is the centerpiece of the building’s highly decorative interior. Rising 50 feet above the first floor, with a diameter of 37 feet, the dome is constructed of coffered plaster with rows of gold painted plaster shells, which decrease in size from the frieze to the cast aluminum oculus ring at the top of the dome. Punctuating the intersection points of the coffers are smaller pink and silver plaster ornaments depicting various marine life. A pale blue cupola provides a soft glow above the oculus ring.

Because of the size of the dome, the extraordinary detail, and the inadequate lighting, it was difficult to determine the condition of the dome. The dome was last inspected as part of a repair and painting project in 1993. The estimated cost to scaffold the dome to do a condition assessment was $150,000+. GSA pursued PhotoSurveytm and PhotoDrawingtm services offered by Manassas Consulting LLC of Pittsburgh, PA.

The dome was divided into eight segments with each segment thoroughly photographed. The photographs were reviewed on site to look for condition issues, such as flaking paint or plaster cracks. These issues were then photographed with a longer lens for a higher resolution image of the problem area. The survey photographs were stitched together to form a seamless whole, providing one large image of each segment of the dome. The segment images were loaded onto a project website that included annotation tools, allowing users to review the images and annotate problem areas. Detailed images of condition issues were linked to the overall images. Once the images were completely reviewed and problem areas noted, the images were converted into line drawings that preserved the surface texture. These drawings represent a bid package that can be issued to contractors to bid on the noted repairs. The project website can also be made available to bidders, reducing the unknowns during the bidding process and hopefully resulting in better pricing with less change orders after award.

The end results of the survey provided good news. The dome is dusty but in good condition, with minor condition issues, such as peeling and flaking paint, and some small nail holes noted. The PhotoSurveytm and PhotoDrawingtm products cost $11,000 and provided GSA with a wealth of knowledge about the condition of the dome, insight into the way the dome was constructed, and a valuable detailed record of the decorative elements in the dome for disaster resilience.

Learning Objectives:

Donna Andrews, preservation professional

Regional Historic Preservation Officer
US General Services Administration, Mid-Atlantic Region

Donna Andrews is the Regional Historic Preservation Officer and Regional Fine Arts Officer for the US General Services Administration's Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mid-Atlantic Region is headquartered in Philadelphia PA and includes portions of six Mid-Atlantic states. Donna looks after a collection of 29 historic federal buildings, courthouses, and custom houses as well as a collection of 97 installed artworks, many of which are located in the region's historic buildings.


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Battle Brown

Manassas Consulting

Battle Brown created a process for developing blueprints showing the surface texture of buildings greatly simplifying communication for existing building and objects. He also developed a suite of web based tools for condition inspection offering life size imagery of buildings, sculpture, art, and other object requiring close visual inspection for condition assessment. He has over 35 years experience in imaging, graphics, and communications; and has been involved in the architecture/engineering/construction industry for twenty years as an owner, contractor, and consultant. Battle’s experience as an owner of a historic landmark building in which he needed to clarify, document, and communicate the scope of work on a restoration project, provided the impetus for the development of the company’s offerings. He is the principle owner of Manassas Consulting LLC located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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Elisabeth Bakker Johnson

Elisabeth Bakker Johnson is an Associate Project Coordinator for the New York State University Construction Fund. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Math and Computer Science from Roberts Wesleyan College, a Masters of Architecture from SUNY Buffalo and a Masters of Science in Building Conservation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. With over 26 years of New York state service, Elisabeth has extensive experience in facilities management and within all phases of the design and construction industry, where she has worked alongside the Capitol Architect and in many other capacities on dozens of projects, most notably the 49-million-dollar Phase 4 New York State Capitol roof and skylight replacement project. She also has several years’ experience working at the New York State Historic Preservation Office and as an Historic Preservation Restoration Coordinator helping to facilitate restoration projects among the state-owned historic sites’ inventory in New York’s Capital District.

Elisabeth has published several articles, some of which can be found in the Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Architecture, where she has five entries related to historic Dutch architecture. As one of the founding Board members of APTNE, a former APTNE Vice President, and as a licensed architect, she continues to champion her longtime passions of architecture and historic preservation through her commitment to several preservation organizations and through any other capacity where she can make a difference.


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High-Resolution Photography Condition Survey of the U.S. Custom House Dome, Philadelphia PA

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