August 2018


by Don Friedman on August 31, 2018

“The past is a foreign country” sometimes isn’t strong enough. Sometimes, the past seems to be a foreign country occupied by very strange people. That’s not a relic of some fort, it’s a water tower for a late-1800s system that served a fair-sized chunk of Hudson County, New Jersey. The Weehawken Water Tower held 165,000 gallons of water, otherwise known as overĀ 1,370,000 pounds of water. That engineering feat, for some reason, required crenelations. The tower is part of a historic complex of waterworks structures and, for obvious reasons, the most visible.

Hudson and Bergen Counties, across the Hudson River from New York, contain a number of small cities and suburban towns, none of which would be able to easily set up a supply of fresh water by itself. That’s as true today as it was when theĀ Hackensack Water Company was building strangeness all over the area 140 years ago. Certain systems – transportation and water supply are the most obvious – have natural service areas that are substantially larger than any municipality. That means that, depending on which era of American history you’re looking at, they were built by private companies with state charters, states, or the federal government. Sometimes bigger is better, even when it results in whatever that tower is supposed to be.

Selective Naming

August 30, 2018

That’s circa 1900 Guastavino vaulting in a public building, supported by brick bearing walls with white glazed brick veneer. Guastavino has received a lot of well-deserved attention over the last twenty years or so, but there’s a phrase that I haven’t heard applied to it: structural honesty. Given that I wrote a rant against the […]

Read the full article →

The Other Senses

August 29, 2018

I’ve been trying to always include pictures with the blog posts, even if the topic isn’t a visual one. Dealing with buildings is very much a visual process, and investigation tends to focus on what we can see. But the repetition of investigating building after building has a tendency to turn looking at buildings into […]

Read the full article →

Low Tech and Remnants of the Past

August 28, 2018

That’s beautiful Marketfield Street, a couple of blocks from our office. The building on the right is the office building that replaced the Produce Exchange; we’re looking on the left at the rear of some mid-1800s buildings that front on Beaver Street. The alley – and let’s not pretend that Marketfield Street is anything but […]

Read the full article →

Temporary Despite Appearances

August 27, 2018

That fine steel structure is going to be used for about two months and then removed. It’s a support for a large scaffold that will have point loads at each leg too large to be supported on the old floor. The posts for the steel go down to temporary footings in the cellar below, and […]

Read the full article →

More Lacing

August 26, 2018

This laced column is so pretty, it apparently won first prize and got a ribbon. Two channels and lacing are one of the simplest form of built-up column. Today we’d use a wide-flange or a tube in this situation.

Read the full article →

My Favorite Pose

August 25, 2018

All skyscrapers look great with their heads in the clouds.

Read the full article →

A Rare Failure

August 24, 2018

That’s the underside of a large, built-up steel girder encased in concrete. (You can see the edges and grain of the wood boards that were used as formwork when the concrete was placed.) You can see the steel because the concrete is broken on the bottom, maybe because it failed spontaneously and maybe because someone […]

Read the full article →

Another Behemoth

August 22, 2018

I took that picture from a train approaching Penn Station from the north, as we approached the Hell Gate Bridge from the Bronx side. The fact that the approach to a train station in Manhattan is over a bridge connecting the Bronx and Queens takes a little explanation… New York City is, more or less, […]

Read the full article →

A Behemoth

August 21, 2018

INLAND TERMINAL NUMBER ONE is the incised-in-stone original name of the building that fills the block between Eight and Ninth Avenues, 15th and 16th Streets. It’s a concrete-frame, brick-walled building constructed in 1932 and it’s whatever the opposite of dainty is. The interior is 2,900,000 square feet, which is significantly larger than the Empire State […]

Read the full article →