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Allianz Tops Off Skyscraper with Corporate ID

Allianz exercises their awarded top of the building signage rights to 1633 Broadway in NYC with some monster channel letters. How they got them there is a story unto itself. Read on...

By Louis M. Brill

Allianz, a global investors company had recently relocated its North American headquarters to 1633 Broadway, a 48-story building in Manhattan.

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  • In acquiring that office space they were also awarded signage rights to the top of the building. Allianz decided that they would locate a sign with their name and logo on the top of the building, with an identical sign on each side.

    Spectrum Signs channels Allianz ID
    Spectrum Signs Inc. (Farmingdale, NY) was commissioned to implement this sign project, and was responsible for fabricating the Allianz signage. The design of the Allianz sign was created by Gensler, (NY, NY), a global architecture firm, who provided concept drawings to Spectrum Signs, upon whom transformed the conceptual design into the final sign structure of a series of closed-face channel letters against an aluminum backplane. Once finished with fabrication, Spectrum teamed up with Empire Erectors and Electrical Co. (Bronx, NY), who were the prime movers in installing the completed signs on the upper reaches of the building top.

    As the Allianz signage was designed, as described by Mike Gyscek, Spectrum Vice President, "the final display was completed as a closed face channel letter sign back lit with Sloan Great White 3Y Series (6500 k) LEDs. There were a total of 12,000 LEDs used to illuminate the four signs. Each 12-foot high channel letter had painted aluminum returns with a " clear Lexan face covering it. Matching each Lexan face was a white 3M diffuser film behind the Lexan. On the Lexan surface was a 3M Dual Color film. During the day the sign face appears blue and at night when illuminated, appears white." Once finished, each channel letter was mounted on its own aluminum background panel (22-feet tall and various widths, depending on letter width it held in place). Altogether each Allianz sign face required ten panels (total sign face was 22-feet x 100-feet) to fully present its corporate name and logo on each side of the building.

    photo by R. Scott Lewis
    1633 Broadway prior to the Allianz channel letter sign boards being placed on the building. Here the vertical rooftop building columns are visible before horizontal rails and the sign panels were attached to them.

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    At the Spectrum Signs shop, a channel letter has been fabricated, and mounted against its wall panel. Interior lit LEDs are in the process of being installed within the channel letter.

    "We, in turn not only fabricated the sign system, but also figured out the engineering to hang the signs from the sides of building," stated Gyscek. "Essentially we came up with the concept of placing a series of steel beams horizontally along the building columns and hanging the sign segments like a giant billboard clamped in place on the side of the building."

    Hanging out on Broadway
    As for attaching the signage to the building, along the rooftop of 1633 Broadway was a series of vertical building columns projecting from the roof to an upper horizontal concrete slab to which each column connected to. The concrete slab in turn held a horizontal platform that encircled the building and had a trolley track from which the building's window washing scaffold traveled around on.

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    At the Spectrum Signs shop, the Allianz logo panel has had its LEDs completely wired in place and is almost fully closed with a 1/4" clear Lexan face covering it. Each matching Lexan face had a white 3M diffuser film behind the Lexan. On the Lexan surface was a 3M Dual Color film. During the day the sign face appears blue and at night when illuminated, appears white.

    R. Scott Lewis who engineered the solution for installing the Allianz signs on 1633 Broadway, had suggested using a series of horizontal square steel tubes (ten-inch square) which would span from building column to building column. "Each side of the building had a set of three horizontal steel rails inserted in place for each Allianze sign to hang from the building. Each selected column had its outer sheet metal aluminum enclosure removed at its point of entry so the horizontal steel tubes were able to be permanently attached to the building column. On the steel tubes were welded a series of angel iron plates upon which each sign segment was connected to."

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    photo by R. Scott Lewis
    Work drawing of electronic hoist which is located rooftop on a truss with a pair of pulleys used to lift channel letter sign panels in place on the building.

    Empire Erectors creates sign lift-off
    Once each sign was completed, at the appropriate moment, each sign segment was trucked to the worksite (1633 Broadway) where its installation was handled by Empire Erectors who were tasked with getting the signs off the street and lifted to the building roof for placement on each side of the building.

    photo by Empire Erectors
    Channel letter sign panel rides the rails! The sign segment is mounted on a custom lifting rig which is locked in place against the window washing tracks. While the sign panel rides the tracks to the rooftop, Spectrum Sign installers accompany the sign segment to make sure the segment travels safely on its half-hour ride to the roof.

    To do so involved a series of very clever custom-built hoisting systems incorporating several unique rigging components, including a custom designed winch, a custom-built carrying rig which locked up and lifted each sign panel segment up the side of the building. Finally, on the roof was a custom-built trolley rail system which was set up to move each sign segment to a specific location to be lowered for final placement on the side of building.

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    Partial installation of the Allianz channel letter sign panels, with the horizontal mounting rails visible through vertical building columns.

    Rooftop lift without a crane
    "To begin the lifting process, each building side," James Ramsburgh company Vice President noted, "required a sidewalk bridge installed by York Scaffolding whose surface acted as a base for storing and preparing each sign segment for hoisting to the rooftop. The first procedure was taking delivery of each Spectrum Sign Allianz panel segment and transferring it from the flatbed to the top of the sidewalk bridge. Because all the panels were delivered as extra-wide loads, Empire Erectors could only receive the sign panels at night as extra-wide flatbeds can only travel on city streets from midnight till 6:00 AM.

    drawing by Spectrum Signs
    Work drawing presents vertical section detail of fully assembled Allianz channel letter sign, showing dimensions of each panel in place and total dimensions of sign.

    "Our biggest challenge was getting the signs to the top of the building, as there was no crane available or capable to provide a 750 + foot lift to the building top. And even if there was, once each sign segment was in motion, it would have proven impossible to control the effect of the wind on the panel and its natural swaying tendencies as each sign segment was hoisted towards the roof."

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    The horizontal rail with the sign panels attached to the rail. Black boxes are the transformers that illuminate the letters. The boxes were intentionally located at the bottom of the framing to allow for ease of changing should they need to be replaced.
    A sharp-eyed reader who looks closely at the photo will see chains hanging from the service access panels. Those chains are attached to the removable access panels which guarantees that the panels cannot fall down to the sidewalk during servicing. The entire sign is serviceable from the rear except for a few places where the letters are directly in front of the building columns.

    Inevitably the solution for lifting the signs to the roof was right in front of them. Already in place along the sides of the building was a vertical track system used by the building's window washing scaffold. Empire Erectors took advantage of that vertical track, and built a custom designed winch and rigging system that also worked from the window washing track. They further built a custom designed hoisting rig upon which each Allianz panel sign segment was clipped into and that in turn was connected to the rooftop custom winch. The rig was designed to be locked into the window washing tracks to carry the channel letter panels up the side of the building with no worries about sway or wind to affect the sign panel's passage to the rooftop.

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    The Allianz channel letters sign has been completely mounted in place between rooftop vertical columns. Note above the sign are the outriggers used to lower sign segments down to the horizontal steel rails to be bolted in place on the rails. In total, four of these channel letter signs were created, with one for each side of the building.

    At the proper moment each sign segment was winched up, and followed by a small Empire crew in Empire's electric scaffold. The scaffold crew then supervised each sign lift session to make sure the sign panel harness rig never snagged on the building and safely reached the top.

    photo by Spectrum Signs
    Allinaz at night, looking down towards Times Square, almost acting as an aerial location beacon for the rest of Times Square.

    Once on the roof, the sign segment was transferred from the winch to a custom-built rooftop trolley with chain falls, which is a rigging device to help lift and lower the sign segments in place. The trolley was then moved along the rooftop to the sign's proper roof position where the sign panel was lowered in place. Once positioned properly, the sign panel was attached to the steel structure by bolting the panel to the sign structure on side of the building.

    As each part of the Allianz sign project reached completion, sign inspector John Carmona, who reported to R. Scott Lewis reviewed each completed section. Inevitably it took approximately 20 plus inspections to look at each part of the install process, with several different visits to each side of the building. "Altogether there were three types of inspections," stated Cormona,

    1) An inspection of the skybridge for each side of the building

    2) Inspections of all the welds and boltings of sign components being attached to structural steel.

    3) A final inspection of entire sign once it was fully attached to horizontal rails.

    Skyline presence
    Once completely installed on all four sides of the building, and illuminated for night viewing, Gyscek noted how amazing it was to see the Allianz sign being visible throughout the entire Manhattan midtown area. "It was even visible across the Hudson River from the New Jersey side and as well, close-up from most of Times Square which was right below it."

    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can be reached at (415) 664-0694 or

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