Mechanical Systems

Thousands of Years of Western Architecture

by Don Friedman on November 5, 2017

The management is redoing the hallways in our apartment house. They’ve decided to hide the cable TV co-axial cables within a plastic crown molding. The installation is, as seen above, in progress.

The original wood crown moldings were based on classical forms and were a way to hide the cracks that often develop in plaster-covered wood structure where a ceiling meets a wall. These are concrete slabs and gyp-on-stud partitions.

I’ll go this far: the moldings look better than the bare co-ax would. Beyond that, I wouldn’t even ask why because I’m afraid I’ll get an answer.

An Unseemly But Necessary Growth

November 3, 2017

There’s no mystery as to what that big thing sticking up above the roof of this building* is: it’s the top of an elevator shaft. The windows in line with the thing are all marked “SHAFT WAY,” which is a not-so-subtle hint; the fact that this is a mid-1800s commercial building that is still in […]

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Peeking Through Unsubtly

August 13, 2017

Another example of a visible piece of ordinarily hidden infrastructure. This one is as easy to spot as the bags of garbage waiting for pick-up.

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Vermiform Squared Off

June 27, 2017

If you have good eyesight, or if you click on the picture above to expand it, you’ll see three odd appendages running up the side of the building. They’re maybe two feet square in plan and go from about the fifth floor level all the way to the top. The two that flank the narrow […]

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More Than A Drop To Drink

June 19, 2017

Via David Goehring, the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County: Stanley Greenberg, writing for The Architectural League, took a photo of a nondescript tunnel entrance and did a nice job explaining how that concrete and steel protrusion shows our water supply system. The very short version: after a long period of New Yorkers drinking water that […]

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Shaft Drive

February 2, 2017

In a modern factory, nearly all of the machinery is powered by electric motors. It’s a clean* and almost silent way to make the machines run.** All well and good, but this is a post-1900 phenomenon. How did factories run in the nineteenth century? Shaft drive connected to steam engines. Steam engines, unlike electric motors, cannot be […]

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Creeping Systemization

September 13, 2016

Broadway and 38th Street, cut open for construction of the BMT Broadway line. Note the collection of pipes and conduits. This New York Times article on the condition of our streets and our under-street infrastructure, Why Are New York’s Streets Always Under Construction?, is a good basic explanation of the topic. There’s an interesting sidelight […]

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Clocks Now and Then

July 12, 2016

First, a truly amazing thesis project from a design student: a wooden clock that writes the time. Bad jokes aside, the big difference between structural engineering and mechanical engineering is that structural engineers working on buildings assume the objects they study are not moving (static) or move slowly enough that the effects of movement can be […]

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Not Just Structure: The String Section

April 13, 2016

We occasionally deal with steel cable in our repair designs, and we deal with steel wire as slab reinforcing in various archaic floor systems. This is neither of those: That’s what a grid looks like in a  working theater. Some more-or-less obscure terminology: a flyloft is the volume of space above a theater stage (and hidden […]

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Not Just Structure

April 12, 2016

The vast majority of these posts have focussed on structural details and failures, and most of the rest have been about architecture. There are other pieces of buildings, of course: That’s the front of an abandoned boiler Mona came across during a site visit. A cast-iron front and doors, and full of pipe…these things tend […]

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