In later years, Tishman Research consulted to New York City’s Department of Buildings on the renovation of fire and safety codes, contributing to what was known as Local Law Number 5, which other jurisdictions in the United States soon copied.
The drywall construction that we helped develop became the industry standard for elevator shaft walls. Consisting of multiple layers of Sheetrock, these new walls were lighter in weight and easier and quicker to install. Also, they were naturally straight and smooth, and when they were installed in winter, did not require temporary heat. With the use of these new walls, whose plasterboard took up a smaller area than the old blocks had done, stairwells became more spacious.
Speaking of walls, when we built our flagship building, 666 Fifth Avenue, we innovated by installing movable flat metal panel partitions throughout the building—the first office building to use this sort of technology throughout its spaces as a “tenant standard.” The panels enclosed soundproofing material inside. Relatively easy to install, the panels also made it possible to reconfigure space precisely to suit each new tenant. They also paid off in later years because they were so much easier to remove and to replace than the old interior lath and plaster walls had been, and the panels were generally reusable—if one tenant in a building didn’t want them, the panels could be taken out and installed elsewhere, at very low cost to us.
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Shaft walls and metal partitions were examples of prefabricated components that we developed and pioneered. Many other organizations were also developing prefab components, and I was always interested in them. The obvious reason for this interest is that they are easier and quicker to install; the less-obvious reason is that when components are manufactured and fitted together in a factory, there is greater quality control than there is when various parts are put together at a building site.
It was not always easy to employ prefab components on large construction projects because their installation often cuts across union jurisdictional lines, which can cause problems. However, our company was always in a good position to solve such problems because we regularly worked closely with the unions and became a well-known champion of using unionized workers on the job. I would tell anyone who listened— the media, other developers and construction people, even prospective tenants—that we actually saved money by using unionized labor because the unionized tradesmen were better trained, more experienced, and
Our reputation enabled us to head off some potential disputes regarding prefab products. Before construction began, I would call in the leaders of the two or three unions that I thought might have a jurisdictional fight over new prefabricated systems and components, and we’d settle in advance which of the trades would handle a particular type of panel or module—the carpenter, the plumber, the tile installer, the sheet-metal worker, or some combination of these. We’d work it out, and then construction could proceed without trade conflicts.