Operable window washing

Window washers hanging from 1 World Trade Center. (express.co.uk)

Window washers hanging from 1 World Trade Center. (express.co.uk)

Window washers hanging from Hearst Tower. (abcnews.go.com)

Window washers hanging from Hearst Tower. (abcnews.go.com)

Another set of window washers almost died on a New York skyscraper, this time at One World Trade Center. The cable broke yesterday and the two window washers hung on, waiting for firemen to cut through two sheets of thick glass on the 69th story. Then they crawled in. The networks did not (at least not CBS) mention the similar drama at the Hearst Tower last year, the first building out of the box after 9/11, by Norman Foster. Engineers spent millions to design a window-washing apparatus suitable for a building whose glass facades mimic a diamond bracelet mating with an accordion. The scaffolding broke, which left its cleaning crew hanging there even more awkwardly than the guys at 1 WTC. Fortunately, there, too, the men were rescued.

I don’t know if anyone has fallen off the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, or off the Shard in London. Maintenance for such buildings, especially for cleaning the exterior, is almost as much an afterthought as the “art programs” selected by committee for them after all the architects have finished laughing their way to the bank.

Perhaps window cleaning will be the first “extra” to go when conglomerates of skyscraper owners can no longer afford their properties. Maybe then the idea will spring to mind of buildings with masonry ledges from which scaffolds can be more naturally, securely and inexpensively hung. And maybe when the money for that runs low, maintenance workers can open a window, step out on the ledge and use a rag to scrub the window clean. (But watch those bootprints on the paperwork!) Operable windows. Now there’s an idea!

Indeed, that might keep a natural lid on the height of buildings, since, above a certain level, opening a window might tend to suck a person out. I don’t know the physics of that phenomenon, but maybe there’s no grit to cling to glass up that high anyway. Then why would they have been cleaning up there in New York? Well, Manhattan has high-rise buildings, so it must have high-rise filth.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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One Response to Operable window washing

  1. The first time I saw a Gehry-designed building I asked myself “How will they wash the windows


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