Freddy H. – Final Project: Today’s Well Known Brooklyn

Freddy H.

ENG 1101

Prof. Gold

11 Dec 2011

Today’s Well Known Brooklyn

Whether you realize it or not the Brooklyn we know and love today is not nearly the same as Brooklyn over a hundred years ago. Throughout the decades many events have taken place that helped Brooklyn form into what it is today. Although catastrophic, fires have played a great role in the way Brooklyn has changed. Fires have helped change the way architects look at the buildings as a whole. They have learned from mistakes in previous designs brought to sight by the incident of fires. From changing the materials and methods of construction, fire codes along with safety rules and regulations, and to the overall design of buildings, architects have found ways not to prevent fires but reduce the time the building itself meets failure.

On December 5th, 1876, the Brooklyn Theater had caught fire. At the time, it had held its maximum capacity of a thousand people. The cheapest seats were the balcony seats, located at the top with a staircase that allowed only one way to enter and exit. These seats were made of wood, a material that was commonly used at this time in construction and design. Although architects also often used masonry, wood was incorporated in almost every single building. Wood is a very flammable substance and can catch fire and transport fire without difficulty. The main cause of fires in this time period was due to building materials, and unorganized methods to control fires.

Architects have become smarter in their methods of incorporating the proper building materials used in a building and their methods of construction. Today, one commonly used material in buildings is brick or masonry. Brick is a very structural and fire resistant material. It comes from the earth, it is compact, and uses heat to become its final stage. Now buildings can prevent the spread of fire by using two wythes of brick to create a party wall; a party wall is the wall that separates the two buildings using brick. Architects also use brick because it becomes a very modular way to construct which means faster and cheaper way to repeat building forms.

Although brick is the most common material used in design it is not the only one that is available to architects. There is still wood, steel, stone, and concrete. Most buildings still use wood but there are different ways to slow down the spread of fire. Fire stopping is one way; this involves a variety of materials which impedes the fire transmitting from one material to another. There are fire retardants, platform vs. balloon framing, fire blocking to prevent the transport of fire, etc. Also if you incorporate wood with another type of material it will slow down  the transportation of fire.

However, architects have the option to use more resistant materials, either steel or concrete. Steels melting point is very high, as well as concretes. There are many ways to fire proof steel, for example, using intumescent paint, enclosing it with gypsum board (sheet rock), and cementicious spray. Buildings, today, still use wood and brick, but the Underwriters Laboratories fire rate items now. Architects may incorporate items into their design rated by the UL listings to see how long till the item meets failure. How the UL listing produces these ratings is by taking the item for example a door, and placing it in a test facility. They then shoot fire balls at it and calculate approximately how long it takes for the door to fall off its hinges.

The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, work with architects to clearly explain the systems along with the building components required to get occupants out of the building. In other words, construct the building codes to let architects know what is needed for a person to safely exit a building. The NFPA inspects buildings after fires to see what might have gone wrong. Then use this information to create rules that will be used in building codes to let architects know what is allowed and what is not. Also, if there were one or more deaths, the NFPA inspectors find out what the cause was and approximately how long it took for the person to die. The Brooklyn Theater fire only had one entrance and one exit for their max occupancy of a thousand people. Now, codes state that if the space occupies a certain number of people, there must be a specific number of entrances and exits.

The evacuation plan for the Brooklyn Theater was not thought out well and there were not enough exits for the buildings occupancy number. The New York City building code requires a minimum of three exit doors for five hundred to a thousand people. If there were more exits, many more people would have got out safely.

A tragic but well known disaster was the September 11th bombing. Although tragic, many codes have emerged from it. In 9/11, the occupants used the stairs to get out and there were no lights to see where they were going and a vast amount of smoke. In result, the code now states that there should be an elusive tape that is six inches above ground in stairways so that a person is aware of where they are headed.

The designs of buildings are greatly affected by codes. In the document set of buildings, there is a specific drawing titled, “Fire Egress Plan.” This plan shows the ways to exit the buildings in case of a fire, how big each walkway is to ensure a safe exit, and the number of exit doors available. The documents also incorporate the different materials used and how to assemble the building.

Architects have become very efficient in the ways they prevent catastrophic events. Fires are just one of many tragedy’s architects try to avoid. From choosing the appropriate building materials, obeying the building code, and to the final design of the building, we can clearly see how architecture has positively progressed over the last century. Technology is constantly progressing along with the ways to ensure occupant safety.

Work Cited

1)      Vaidya, Sanjive. “Brick Masonry” New York City College of Technology. Brooklyn,

New York, IN 18 October 2011. Lecture

2)      Vaidya, Sanjive. “Steel Framing” New York City College of Technology. Brooklyn,

New York, IN 18 October 2011. Lecture

3)      Vaidya, Sanjive. “Wood” New York City College of Technology. Brooklyn,

New York, IN 18 October 2011. Lecture

4)      Vaidya, Sanjive. “Wood Framing” New York City College of Technology. Brooklyn,

New York, IN 18 October 2011. Lecture



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