Superstructure Contractor in New York City
New York, New York: port of arrival and emblem of the New World, new beginnings and where dreams come true. They say the energy and hustle here is like nowhere else on earth, while locals joke that “it’ll be a great city… once it’s finished”. Ever present construction sites seem to be as characteristic as the constant change which they represent. What does it mean to be a part of this, to contribute to that iconic skyline? For Jason Giessel, owner of RC Structures in New York, it means a lot. His company, founded in 2006, specializes in superstructure. In other words, he oversees the emergence of buildings from the ground up, as their shells grow upwards towards the sky. Over the course of our conversation, we discuss living and working in NYC, the evolving cityscape and what it takes to make it here.
Skyscrapers are of course an intrinsic part of New York’s visual identity and culture. 15 East 30th Street, RC Structures’ tallest building completed to date, is just one of them. Ascending 800 feet into the air, it’s a real skyline structure, “just gorgeous” as Giessel says, with evident pride. He has always enjoyed the process of making architectural plans come to life, “really diving into the drawings and making everything that’s in the arches and struts part of the permanent building”. From the planning and logistics stage, to the arrival of the cranes and pumping operations, to finally seeing the outline take form, pour by pour, construction has clearly lost none of its appeal for him since he first started out in the field 25 years ago. A Wisconsin native, he originally came to New York as a religious volunteer with Watchtower and learned the trade through working on site.
“It was really coming to New York to work as a volunteer that introduced me to New York and New York City, and as a result, you learn all about it. New York is a machine all of its own,” he says, describing how his experience of the city is interwoven with his years working in construction here. “The coolest part is that you do have that connection because you can remember all these corners that you worked on. You get to know the area. You get to know where the best almond croissants are, you get to know all these little niches that are neighborhood related. And it is so cool just to see that and the feel of the city because it’s different in every corner. Every corner has its own little vibe.” Driving through the streets with his children or watching a film, he often finds himself pointing out places that he has worked on, and in his own words: “It’s pretty cool to see, just that you have a little bit of a fingerprint on the city. It’s just a tiny little marker that makes up the city.”
“The coolest part is that you do have that connection because you can remember all these corners that you worked on.”
“The concentration of New York and just the way everything is, we’re tied together so closely,” he says, as he reflects on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the deeply interconnected nature of contemporary urban living into sharp focus. “Our workforce at the time was about 450 men. They were utilizing the subways and buses. They were carpooling. They were all traveling back and forth together. We were incredibly concerned that if this virus took hold in our company, it would not only affect our work, but could wipe out our crews, because they were working closely together and always in close company.”
The majority of RC’s projects at the time were categorized as essential and therefore permitted to continue. However, the leadership team presciently decided to pause all activity from April 6 to April 20, earlier than most. Although inevitably, some individual workers did fall ill with the virus anyway, they subsequently recovered, and the virus wasn’t widespread. Compared to others, Giessel feels that his crews were spared the brunt of the pandemic, as they were out of general circulation and the concentration of being on site during the time when cases began to rise exponentially. Clients, who initially could have baulked at the prospect of missed deadlines, ultimately recognized, and respected this.
Speaking about clients, Giessel is especially appreciative of those who gave the company its start in the early days, many of whom became repeat customers. As he says, “it’s one thing to close a job, but when that same owner calls you for his next one, it just pays you back with stars.” He places a high value on positive working relationships and is grateful for strong connections built up over the years with various owners, developers, managers, and vendors. In response to their ongoing support and trust, he prioritises clear communication and respect, trying to keep things as simple as possible. While operating based on team spirit with all involved, the company’s business model has simultaneously evolved along the principle of self-sufficiency. This works out in the best interest of everyone, as Giessel explains the rationale for RC acquiring its own equipment:
“I’ve always bought into the model of owning your supply chain. As we were successful in business, we re-invested,” he says about purchasing concrete pumps and tower cranes, rather than continuing to rent them. “It’s allowed us not only to maintain schedules, but to be efficient, when we can control all of those decisions. We’ve gone through some growing pains, in acquiring all these parts and components, but each one has rewarded us differently and it’s always been to add to our whole. So we’re geared up for whatever comes our way, and I figure that’s a part of being sustainable.” We broach the topic of recession, but despite recent disruption due to the pandemic, there is no sign of construction slowing down here. If anything, the indications are that NYC is gearing up for another building boom soon. Giessel gives me a rundown of areas that have recently been re-zoned and are ripe for acceleration, but clarifies that “this is not the city where you just show up and go to work. It would appear that way to some, but it is highly structured.” Indeed, there is a lot of legislation, and all aspects of the industry are highly regulated, from architectural details to the very operations of construction companies. While many find this restrictive, Giessel sees it as impetus for improvement and reminds me that the one constant in life, especially city life, is change: “When you’re in New York and the market keeps changing, and the owners keep changing, and project sizes keep changing, we keep changing,” he says, totally unfazed. At the time of writing there are some very promising projects in the works, with three of RC’s Tower Cranes soon to be out on site. In Brooklyn, 65 Private Drive and 77 Commercial Street will see superstructures of some 40 stories, while 2555 Broadway was just topped off with a new 21 story residential building. Towards the end of our conversation, I am reminded of something Giessel said to me at the outset: “As long as you’re working, you’ll keep going up.” It’s an apt metaphor and not just for those working with tall buildings. It embodies the very spirit of optimism and ambition shared by so many new arrivals to this city. That iconic skyline is a testament to their daring and hard work.