Why there is so much Scaffolding in NYC

by | Last updated Feb 27, 2024 | FISP Local Law 11, New York City, NYC DOB

Everywhere you look in New York City, there is scaffolding in front of buildings. It seems as if NYC is always under construction and covered in scaffolds. The question is, why?


Why is there so much Scaffolding in NYC?

There are many buildings in New York City with scaffolding because a law requires inspections of facades for all buildings, within the city, over six stories once every five years. Any deficiencies must be repaired, and the public must be protected during this process. These regulations are called FISP or the Façade Inspections & Safety Program, formerly known as Local Law 11. 

FISP is responsible for a significant portion of the scaffolding in NYC. Still, there is also constant construction within the city, and these construction sites all need scaffolding for workers and sidewalk sheds to protect the public.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, an NYC-based architecture firm. In this post, I will briefly explain why there is so much scaffolding in NYC as it is required by FISP.


Why Are Façade Inspections Necessary in NYC?

Over the years, several people have been killed in New York City by falling debris from buildings. New York has many tall buildings, which can deteriorate over time. Cracks can form in masonry walls, and this can cause pieces of a building façade to fall to the sidewalk and potentially kill someone. The deaths caused by falling debris is why New York City passed Local Law 11 in 1998 to require façade inspections.

Local Law 11 requires all buildings over six stories to be inspected by an architect or engineer and for these professionals to submit a report to the Department of Buildings identifying their safety status. The individual architects and engineers who do this work must also be listed as a QEWI with the NYC DOB to perform the inspections and submit the reports. QEWI stands for Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector. If you want to read more about the responsibility of a QEWI, we have another post you can see. What is a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector?


Building Safety and Scaffolding 

When the buildings are inspected for FISP, the QEWI will place the building in one of three categories: Safe, SWARMP, or Unsafe. Safe means the building is safe, and nothing needs to be done until the next report is due in the following five year cycle. SWARMP means Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program. Unsafe means the building is unsafe and needs immediate repair.

Any building that is categorized as unsafe will need immediate protection over the sidewalk. When a building is SWARMP, it may also require protection over the sidewalk. 

You can see a picture below of an example of a Sidewalk Shed to protect the people on the sidewalk in front of a building we are restoring.

Scaffolding on an NYC Sidewalk

Scaffolding on an NYC Sidewalk


Local Law 11 & FISP

If you want to read more about Local Law 11 and Façade Safety, we have another post on the Façade Inspection & Safety Program


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Why there is so much Scaffolding in NYC?

I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


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Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.