January 2019

A Hidden Name

by Don Friedman on January 31, 2019


That’s a steel beam from the roof framing of a 1903 building, made visible by the construction of a new stair. The writing on it is the identifying information for this beam, for use by the steel erector 116 years ago. The painted designation was hidden by the terra cotta tile arch of the roof until that was cut out a few weeks ago as part of the stair construction, so this is the first time that writing has been visible since the building was built.*

The top line is “B15” which is straightforward: it’s the designation for this particular beam. There may have been more than one B15 – based on the roof layout, I’m guessing there are about two dozen of them – because that designates a specific beam size, length, and connection geometry. If there are multiple beams of the same size that are the same length (because they’re spanning between identical girders the same distance apart) and with the same connections, then they’re all going to be B15s. The erector could have put any one of them in this location and it would fit.

The second line is a statement of truth: this beam is part of the 13th tier of framing. A lot of older buildings left out the 13th floor for superstition, developers have been known to skip some floor numbers to make their buildings seem higher than they actually are, and mezzanines or other levels of floor framing may be squeezed between regularly-numbered floors. But the tiers of framing are numbered from the bottom up and reflect simply how many horizontal levels of framing there are. This building has no skipped floor numbers and no non-numbered levels, so the roof above the 12th floor is the 13th tier.

The third line is a mystery. The beam in question is too small to weigh 84 pounds per foot, so that’s not a weight marker, and it’s odd to have the beams numbered consecutively when they have more ordinary numbers like “B15.” But odd things sometimes take place.


* That might seem remarkable but it’s reasonably common. Sometimes when buildings are demolished we see signs painted on the sides of their neighbors that have been hidden for 50 or 100 years.

Architectural Branding

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That’s 26 Broadway, about two blocks from our office. It’s more commonly known as the Standard Oil Building, although Standard Oil has been gone for a long time. When Standard was broken up, the new companies made out of the fragments included Eastern States Standard Oil (Esso, later Exxon), Standard Oil Company of New York […]

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The State of NYC’s Supertall Boom

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Spiky: Curbed has a map.

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Follow-up on Economics and Metal Fabrication

January 29, 2019

Bill Harvey sent me this close-up after our sight-seeing trip to the Clifton Bridge.* Putting aside the beauty of the photo in itself, it has something to say about changes in metal (in this case wrought iron) technology over the years. That’s a connection between two parts of an iron tie in the vaults at […]

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The Imprint Of Past Economics On Steel

January 28, 2019

That’s a probe at a 1928 office building and it shows pretty much what you’d expect: a couple of large steel beams with a heavy riveted connection to a column. (The column is small because this is at the 20th floor of a 22-story building.) Some of those rivets were driven in the shop and […]

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Green Roofs

January 27, 2019

We’ll see how this goes in the city council. A lot of NYC buildings are too small to have much available roof area for green roofs: once you subtract a stair (and sometimes elevator) bulkhead, rooftop mechanical, and a cross-roof path for the fire department, there’s not much room left on a townhouse or tenement […]

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The Message Only Becomes More Important Over Time

January 26, 2019

I feel like I read an article on this topic every month or so, but the repetition is okay. The greenest building is the one that already exists and is reused. Or, as Mark Alan Hewitt puts it in Common Edge:¬†Why Reusing Buildings Should Be the Next Big Thing. Existing buildings vastly outnumber new ones, […]

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A Sense Of Place

January 25, 2019

That’s a picture of the train shed at the Bristol Temple Meads station. It’s a very old station, and it’s been altered several times. The shed roof here and the head house off to the left are, I believe, mostly from the 1870s renovation. I took this picture as I got off a train because […]

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The Clifton Bridge, Part 3

January 24, 2019

That’s another view from the east, looking across the Avon gorge at the west tower From this angle, the tower looks a bit odd, as if it has shrunk in the wash. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.) The towers for a suspension bridge at a deep gorge are usually shorter overall than those […]

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The Clifton Bridge, Part 2

January 23, 2019

Or more like Parts 2a and 2b, since I have two short topics I want to discuss, related only by them both touching on the towers of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. First, I remembered from the 1990s that the towers of the bridge are ashlar masonry, but I did not remember what kind. The picture […]

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