Work In Progress

The title of this post is not about work in our office, of which there is much on many types of buildings. It’s part of the title of a series of webinars at the Skyscraper Museum this spring. The full title is “Work in Progress: Construction History in New York and Chicago, 1870-1930.” The original idea for the series had four parts – Foundations, Frames, Facades, and Fire – and a fifth was added to provide social context using a single building as an example. Tom Leslie and I will be giving, respectively, the Chicago and New York perspectives on these topics for about half of each of the first four parts, with the other half being a question and answer session guided by a series of experts acting as respondents. In order, the respondents will be Jared Green, Brian Bowen, Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, and Alexander Wood. Given that those four people could each easily deliver their own talks on these topics, I’m expecting to be put on the spot. The additional lecture will be given by Alexander Wood, and will center on the 1883 Mills Building on Broad Street.

Everyone who dives into skyscraper history ends up creating their own way to categorize both the buildings and their findings. My main method, as described in detail in The Structure of Skyscrapers, is to use structural loading. But before I got there, I had to define what engineering functions I thought were necessary for a skyscraper. In other words, I couldn’t define loading until I knew what was being loaded. My final list of functions resisting gravity (vertical loading), resisting wind (lateral loading), providing usable interior space, (floors spanning between beams), enclosure against the weather, and resisting the effects of fire. As I say in the book, there are other ways to define functions that may be useful for other analyses; this list was useful for me. My list maps nicely onto the current lecture series: resisting gravity and wind load is the job of the Foundations and Frames, Facades are the enclosure against the weather, and Fire is fire. It’s mildly ironic for me to be taking part in a series that does not include floors because that is one of the building elements I most commonly deal with in my engineering work.

The webinars will be free and fun, and full of alliteration centered on the letter F. I invite everyone to listen in, either when we’re live, or later using the museum’s recordings.

The picture above shows two of the four topics: excavation for the foundations of the New York Public Library in the foreground (with wood sheeting and shoring) and a steel frame being erected for a less-famous building further west on 40th Street in the background.

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