Philadelphia Façade Ordinance O&N Assists Philadelphia Building Owners & City

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  • Author Joel Darras
  • Published May 7, 2010
  • Word count 725

The Philadelphia Façade Ordinance is now law.

Introduced on August 17th, 2009 by City Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney, the original Façade Ordinance bill passed unanimously on Dec. 10th last year. The structural engineering firm O’Donnell & Naccarato provided professional expertise in the drafting of the Philadelphia Façade Ordinance amendment.

Three incidents in the summer of 2009, where pieces of building facade crashed to the sidewalk in Center City, combined with Philadelphia’s extensive inventory of historic structures necessitated a Façade Ordinance mandating a regimen of property maintenance to ensure public safety.

O’Donnell & Naccarato’s 150 years of combined experience in façade restoration in Philadelphia brought real-world knowledge to the table as the City of Philadelphia and building owners worked to craft a safe, comprehensive but reasonable Façade Ordinance.

The Philadelphia Façade Ordinance (

details a staggered cycle of inspections every 5 years by a "licensed Professional Engineer experienced in the practice of structural engineering or a licensed Registered Architect knowledgeable in the design, construction and inspection of building facades". Buildings 6 stories and higher or with appurtenances in excess of 60 feet are covered by the Façade Ordinance, which primarily mandates an inspection report, based upon:

• A review of previous reports, inspections or repairs.

• A review of the building’s history, materials, wall construction and water management.

• A physical examination of the building façade, testing and photographs.

The structure’s façade, or portions of it, are then graded in the Façade Ordinance:

• Safe

• Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Plan

• Unsafe

Conditions determined to be Safe with a Repair and maintenance Plan or Unsafe are probed for probable causes and recommendations for repairs. The Philadelphia Façade Ordinance mandates repair work within 10-days of filing the inspection report.

Most of Center City Philadelphia’s tall building stock is in the 60 – 120 year old range, adorned with massive cornices, ledges and balconies that overhang the street. The Philadelphia Façade Ordinance recognizes that water infiltration is the hidden cause behind most deterioration scenarios. Yet deterioration can go unnoticed for years without the professional inspection mandated by the Façade Ordinance.

Façade restoration engineering, the heart of the new Philadelphia Façade Ordinance, is an evolving subspecialty of structural engineering that focuses on the particular dynamics of facades and how they relate to the aesthetic, structural, envelope and building environment performance of a structure. Water infiltration, trickling through cracks and holes in a facade, can do substantial damage particularly during the freeze/thaw cycle so prevalent in the Philadelphia climate region. Masonry joints crack and crumble, metal fasteners holding terra cotta in place corrode and rust, stone, masonry and brick loosen, delaminate and shift. Eventually, if not caught in time, something will detach and fall. The new Façade Ordinance is precisely tailored to preventatively identify and remediate such conditions before they become dangerous.

O’Donnell & Naccarato’s Façade Engineering department has been in existence for over 30 years, gathering invaluable knowledge of historical building systems, materials and techniques no longer used or taught in modern university engineering departments, but very relevant in light of the new Façade Ordinance.

A case in point was O&N’s involvement with the landmark Wanamaker building on Market Street. A 12-story, 1,500,000 SF structure, built in 1911 in the Florentine style, the Wanamaker is a steel frame structure on concrete slab with a façade consisting of marble, granite and painted cast iron. An ornamental terra cotta cornice decorates the 3rd story elevation. O’Donnell & Naccarato has, in its long-term relationship with the building owner, employed many of the proactive provisions of the Philadelphia Façade Ordinance. In particular, crafting a comprehensive annual inspection/repair regimen that implemented façade restoration strategies to correct potential deficiencies before significant structural repairs were necessitated. This was enhanced by creating and maintaining a digital archive of the original building drawings, another provision of the Façade Ordinance presaged by the long experience of the O&N Façade Restoration engineers.

The Philadelphia Façade Ordinance was amended on January 28th, 2010 and the final version of the amended Façade Ordinance was passed unanimously by City Council on Feb. 4th, 2010 and signed into law by the Mayor on Feb. 17, 2010.

Please contact Joel Darras ( at (215) 925-3788 for additional information.

For more information on Philadelphia Façade Ordinance Please visit

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