Expounding on a Neat Trick

by Don Friedman on October 30, 2017

I talked a bit about this type of detail recently but I was surprised to learn that I hadn’t posted these pictures. This is a middle-third of the 1800s tenement in Hell’s Kitchen that was built with retail space on the first floor. The wood joists of the floors and roof span left to right, supported by the side walls and two interior walls in line with the two columns on the facade we’re looking at. 

Both street facades are supported on these cast-iron arches tied with wrought-iron rods, and the arches are supported on cast-iron columns. The fascias at the tops of the old storefronts, which probably carried signs for the stores, hid everything from the rods up to the top of the brick band above the arches. I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with a camera in my hand to get a series of pictures that show the structure exposed. 

It’s not an accident that the arches are so shallow. First, it’s easier to transition from iron to brick if the arch curve is shallow. Second, it was easier to cast the nearly-straight arch pieces than it would have been to cast more curved pieces. Most importantly, the shallower an arch is, the greater its horizontal  thrust, but the use of the wrought-iron ties meant that thrust was not a problem here. 

As I said before, this is a clever detail that uses the commonly-available technology of the era to do something quite difficult: support a masonry wall over a large void. 

Different Types of Efficiency

October 19, 2017

I seem to keep coming back to train station roofs as I write. That’s happening partly because I travel by train a good amount so I’m looking at those roofs, and partly because they tend to have exposed structure designed by engineers with little or no separate architectural design, which may not make them beautiful […]

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Detailing For The Forces

October 17, 2017

A big part of structural design is “detailing,” which is drawing the way various pieces of a building  are connected. The bridge above (click to enlarge all of the photos) is in Wrocław and has a shorter span than the average American suspension bridge of any era. I walked over it a number of times […]

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Road Trip: An Orphaned Wall

October 16, 2017

Seen on the street in Ottawa… I’ve mentioned orphans walls once before. They are what’s left when old walls are incorporated into new buildings in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to demolish the wall when the original building is demolished. In this case, the light-red wall with white trim obviously belonged to […]

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Not Quite What They Meant

October 1, 2017

An idyllic small-city residential street: But let’s look close up at that sign: A sign to warn drivers that children are playing (and might, for example, chase a loose ball into the street) is a good thing. This sign, though, is a bit confusing. If the children are playing on a seesaw then they’re not […]

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Planning For Future Floods

September 30, 2017

The South Ferry subway station after Hurricane Sandy, courtesy of the MTA: Here’s a good article on infrastructure improvement, specifically on repairs to mitigate future disasters: 6 rules for rebuilding infrastructure in an era of ‘unprecedented’ weather events. The third rule, “Design for climate change” jumped out at me as it’s something we see every time we […]

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Historic New Structural Detail

September 19, 2017

Even though construction is still in progress – note the blue tarps and the chain fall – that is a beautiful sight that very few people will ever see. That is the inside of a newly-constructed onion dome. The old dome and cupola, which formed the steeple of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Elizabeth, […]

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Research Versus Design

August 8, 2017

Richard Buday’s essay “The Confused and Impoverished State of Architectural Research” in Common Edge is thought-provoking to a degree that I’m not sure how much I actually agree or disagree with it. The core statement, that research is not as prevalent in architecture as it is in similar professions, is hard to argue with, but […]

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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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The Turning Point In Frame Technology

July 5, 2017

Ben Evans has a very nice piece on the evolution of technology here: Not Even Wrong. It’s not a completely new idea, but he states it well: there is evolution of a given technology within a type, and there’s development of new types that require new ways of design and analysis. These two kinds of […]

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