Now It’s Everywhere

by Don Friedman on February 1, 2017

Over the top of the SUV, you can see a partially-demolished building in Red Hook. The city records show it as constructed in 1940, a date that fits with the architecture of the curved, column-free corner of the storefront.

The removal of the storefront and the loss* of the brick fireproofing on the roof spandrel beam show that the beam is a steel I beam or maybe a channel**. There has never been a time when it was necessary to use steel framing in a building this size. Steel framing and the associated curtain-wall exteriors were developed in the late nineteenth for large buildings and specifically tall ones: designers and builders had reached the practical and economic limits of what could be constructed using masonry bearing walls and wood joists and turned to new technology to advance their agendas.

Once the new technology of steel framing became popular, it became less expensive and easier to use. Architects, engineers, and contractors became familiar with the system and then comfortable with it. It is now, some 130 years later, part of the background of construction and is not given much thought. And, by 1940, it was simple enough to show up in a fancy spandrel beam to enable the construction of a curved and cantilevered storefront corner; in an earlier time, the windows would have been a bit smaller for a building with all-masonry walls and a wood-joist roof.

* Collapse? Probe? Demolition in progress? Who knows?

** The curve actually makes it pretty likely it’s a channel, as channels are easier to bend than I beams, but the two seconds I had to see it as we drove by didn’t allow a lot of evaluation.

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