That’s Not Perspective

by Don Friedman on May 4, 2017

Two buildings in SoHo with a shared foundation problem. There’s a small amount of forced perspective because I was standing at grade (across the street) looking diagonally up, but the main irregularity in the photo – the depression of the right wall of the left building and the left wall of the right building – is very real. I’ve highlighted the movement of the left building below.

The two aqua lines are parallel to the spandrel panels (and presumably the floors behind) in the bay on the far left. The deviation of the spandrels from those lines in the right bay of the left building is entirely foundation settlement. Why so much settlement at this location? Simple: bad soil. Here’s the location on the Viele Map:

Blue is water (the Hudson River at the top, the Collect Pond at the bottom), pink is landfill constructed before 1865, light green is ordinary land, hatching indicates hills (long since removed) and dark green is swamp. The red dot is the spot in question and we now know why there was foundation movement: this area is a filled swamp and has poor soil.

Buildings in southern SoHo are all over the place in terms of verticality. You name a direction, you can find a building tilted that way. These are old industrial buildings that for half of the nineteenth century and maybe two-thirds of the twentieth had extremely heavy floor loads and they are sitting on soft and saturated soil.

When you see something strange with a building, remember that there’s always a reason.

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