Anna Karenina in Concrete

by Don Friedman on September 10, 2017

Tolstoy said that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This principle can be applied to buildings: every building in good condition is alike, every failing building fails in its own way.

The white paint on the concrete does a great job, in my opinion, of highlighting where the spalls, cracks, and rusted rebar are located.

Sidewalk Vaults and True Obsolescence

August 14, 2017

For people unfamiliar with sidewalk vaults, the illustration above, from 1865, might seem plausible, but it’s actually Daniel Badger’s fantasy of how he could sell more iron. The left-hand side is reasonably accurate for mid-1800s vaults: the facade columns extend down past the plane of the sidewalk, marking the separation of the cellar proper from […]

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A Square Peg In A Square Hole

July 20, 2017

If you wait long enough, every aspect of a given technology will change. Square reinforcing bars used to be fairly common in concrete, but they’re long gone in design practice. Plain reinforcing bars, without surface deformations, used to be fairly common in concrete, but they’re long gone in design practice. Of course, just because we […]

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Floating Structure

July 19, 2017

It can be a little strange to read how outsiders see in-group activities that you are familiar with. This article in Core77 on the annual concrete canoe races sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers is aimed at industrial designers. It holds up the concrete canoe races as an example of combining hands-on experience […]

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Concrete Non-Failure

July 3, 2017

Concrete, as a composite material, has more potential modes of failure than steel. A steel beam can be overstressed (and yield or rupture), rust, or buckle sideways for lack of bracing. Barring some really esoteric failure modes, that’s about it and that’s plenty. A concrete beam (or, as pictured above, a slab) can be overstressed, […]

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Pragmatic Concrete

May 16, 2017

That strange-looking pier above requires some back-story explanation. The New York subways were originally built as three systems – the privately-owned IRT and BMT, and the city-owned IND – which were organizationally integrated in the 1940s. The IRT and BMT were competing with each other but were also joined at the hip by an expansion […]

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May 15, 2017

These photographs of the demolition of the Orange County Government Center designed by Paul Rudolph are heartbreaking even if brutalism isn’t your favorite style. It was an uncompromising expression of a never-popular style and, because it required non-standard detailing and repairs, it was not well maintained and had severe problems with leaks. Ultimately, there was a […]

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Why Not?

May 13, 2017

That’s the underside of a mezzanine in an industrial building in an industrial complex, built in the 1910s. The slab above is one-way spanning from the beam on the right over the window to the beam on the left above the electrical conduit. There’s a column on the right, just past the window, and a […]

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In The Details

April 28, 2017

God is in the details – Mies van der Rohe The Devil is in the details – Anonymous A topic that I find interesting in general, and critical professionally, is how engineers make decisions with incomplete information. This comes up in all types of engineering design discussion, from our alteration and repair niche to oil-rig design, […]

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The Meaninglessness Of Structural Honesty

April 19, 2017

Pretty, right? It’s the rear of the sanctuary of the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. That clean gothic vaulting is reinforced concrete. And that sentence contains everything that’s wrong with the concept of “structural honesty” in architecture. The vault form was developed thousands of years ago for use with unreinforced masonry, and is a fantastic way to span a roof […]

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