Failure

Acceptable Performance

The picture abide shows the home of the San Francisco Call newspaper following the 1906 earthquake. The Call Building had a modern steel frame that even included some attempts at seismic bracing and, as can be seen here, suffered little earthquake damage. Its interior was, however, severely damaged by the fires that followed the quake, …

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Failure Portrait: It Doesn’t Quite Fit

I haven’t done one of these in a while, partly because of the Covid-19 lockdown and partly because of the luck of the draw in which projects I’ve visited. I like this photo because the failure is quite subtle but also completely visible. That’s a piece of a stone-masonry facade, visible up close from a …

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116 Years And It’s Not Enough

People’s responses to tragedy move at their own pace. When I was studying history in grad school I took a course on how memory becomes history, about the process of converting people’s personal memories and current-day news accounts into a historical record. My term paper compared the historical arc of several tragic events, including 9-11, …

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Construction History: Unearthing Cause And Effect

The 1896 Sanborn Map, above, shows a vacant lot at 1078 Madison Avenue. A while ago I became interested in why that lot was vacant at that time, and the answers show a bit about the usefulness and limitations of historical research in our field. The basic facts are simple: a five-story, one-lot apartment house …

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Construction History: A Detail Fails

In the world of US building design and construction, the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the beginning years of the twentieth were largely a search for “fireproof” construction. Ultimately that search proved to be futile, and the efforts switched to timed fire-ratings and the protection of people via better egress and other non-structural …

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