Construction History: Bit By Bit

The B. Altman department store, founded in the mid-1800s and out of business in 1989, was for most of the twentieth century located in a limestone palace at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. The building is a designated landmark, and has been happily repurposed as a home for the CUNY Graduate Center, a branch of …

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A Moment of Transition

Two snippets from the structural drawings for a 1926 steel-frame apartment house in Manhattan, AKA a pre-war. Above, a column foundation. The grillages I’ve been showing were mostly from the 1890s; here’s one thirty years later. The load on column number 12 is 850,000 pounds (I think that’s a 5), and the weight of the …

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Construction History: Comparison

By now, I’ve shown so many pictures like the one above that I feel like anyone reading can probably pick out the main points. That’s the frame of the Carnegie Building in Pittsburgh, as published in “American and English Practice in Architectural Steel Construction” in the Engineering Magazine, May 1898. The author, Charles Childs, makes …

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Where It Comes From: Steel

The Edgar Thomson Works, seen above, was a turning point in the wrought-iron versus steel argument in the United States. In 1875, steel was stronger and had more consistent properties, but only incrementally so. It was also more expensive. People chose which metal to use, or mixed and matched within a single project, based on …

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