Friday, February 16, 2007

Detail of the Week: Demolition is fun!

We architects are taught to build things, but not so much to tear them down. Pity, really; there's so much that needs to be demolished. Strip malls, deserted big box stores, the completed works of Frank Gehry...and this building I passed on the way to lunch today. It had been one nightclub or another for the past few years, each club owner painting its double-tee concrete exterior some hideous blend of colors. First, it was a nightclub with a beach theme (because nothing says "beach" like two feet of snow and 30-mph winds at a mile above sea level), so they painted the exterior a light yellow with turquoise waves. Then it was a swingin' hotspot with bright yellow and red flames on the sides. Its final incarnation was a south-of-the-border themed club, which was mercifully shut down. Finally a development company bought the building and demolished it. The plan, so I hear, is to put up some high end lofts in the building's place. Evidently, what downtown Denver really needs right now is more high-end lofts.

The exterior, as I mentioned, was made up of precast concrete double tees, which so I hear were invented right here in Denver. They can be used as load bearing walls, as they were in Club Nasty, or as a roof, as they were in this photo (taken looking up through a grid ceiling with the tiles removed).

You can see the legs of the tee coming down from the roof slab. That slab's about 2 inches thick, and each leg is about 30 inches deep. When you look at the end of a double tee, it looks like this: TT. Here's what's left of the double tees that made up the exterior wall of Club Nasty--note that there's a chaink link fence around the site. The construction company has to keep unauthorized people off the site because if the wander around on it and get hurt, they can sue...even though the boneheaded move of wandering around on a construction site without protective gear and a clue is totally their fault.

The legs on these tees were only about 12 to 16 inches deep. The slab part of the tee rested on the building's slab, which was poured separately from the sidewalk, which is why the bottom part of the tee legs is still stuck on the sidewalk. The rest of the tees are gone because they could be easily removed along with the building's slab. The top picture shows the rebar in the tees (those dark wiry things sticking out). They weren't able to remove all of the tee that was against the new loft building, though.
See the blue plastic stuff on the wall? Sarge and I are betting that pulling down Club Nasty's party wall (the wall that was right up against the loft building) opened a hole in the loft's party wall, so they have to keep water out until someone can get over there to fix it. You can see the rest of the party wall in this photo. The sludgy grey stuff is the mortar between the bricks. That's what mortar looks like on the back side of a brick wall, where you can't clean it off with a trowel. Now these two photos are the coolest, and mercifully, the last ones of this post.

The upper photo shows the line of Club Nasty. Can you see the little ledges of brick hanging over the top of where it used to be? I'm not entirely sure what that's about--perhaps the architect was moving the bricks out so s/he could make the upper floors a little bigger, or maybe s/he was just making a comment about the hideous building below it. There's also a different color of brick and mortar at the bottom of the loft's party wall, next to the weirdly-painted foundation wall. This might be because the loft building used a differnt type of brick for the bottom of its party wall, or because it used some existing brick in the wall instead of tearing it out (this part of downtown is about 130 years old). You also see how there are some stripes where the bricks are turned differently so you can see the holes in them? Sarge and I are wondering if perhaps those protions of brick aligned with some concrete columns in Club Nasty on this side. See how the foundation bumps out at each of those funny areas? I'm thinking we're right--structural engineers often enlarge the foundations at column locations so they can distribute more of the load. I'm still wondering why the bricks would be turned differently at the columns, though....

Everyone still with me? Good! Well, faithful WAD readers, I'll reward your patience with this extra-long extended-rave-mix of a Detail of the Week with some good gossip about Wanda tomorrow. I'm worn out from working on Pomme de Terre all week.

Actually, it's not gossip if it's true. And Shorty spit de troof.


BaxterWatch said...

ha. that's why i love europe.

as one of my enginerd classmates said whilst we were on study abroad:

I love this place! you can climb all over the castle ruins, walk right up to a cliff and there's no fences, no signs, no nothing. because why? because these people think, "if you're dumb enough to hang off a crumbling cliff and die, its no body's fault but your own, dumb ass."

but all done in a classy british accent with "Quite sorry, dear. Would you like a biscuit with your tea?"

demo is FUN!! I've done lots - except when you're tearing down stuff thats gots oodles of chemical residuals and drains in buildings that leaked though the foundation in to the soil and uh-oh. can we say $$$$$$$$?

never mind. its friday. I'm done with work.

faded said...

Ah, the assembled work of Mr. Gehry. The Chicago Architecture Institute and Museum has the design development models he used to build the WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL in Los Angeles 1987. The display waxes rhapsodic about the design process he used and how he was able to control mass and volume.

They don't tell you about the fact that some of those wonderful 3d curve turned out to be parabolas. If you remember you high school math, parabolas are used to focus light or other electromagnetic energy. Well the unexpected parabolas wound having focus points on surfaces of the neighboring buildings or inside the neighboring buildings.

Think about it, all that highly polished stainless steel area focusing the sun on the neighboring buildings and cooking them. Apparently temperatures inside some areas of the buildings across the street exceed 110 degrees. Oops.

They finally went back and sanded large areas of the concert hall to cut its' reflectivity and this solved the problem.

A final warning, if you do some architectural drinking, do not do it near one of Mr. Gehry's buildings, if you become intoxicated you may fall and spear yourself on a corner or worse pass out in the focus of one of those parabolas and come to a bad end.

I like contemporary design, but that concert hall of Mr. Gehrys' work looks like an airplane that someone did a bad job of turning inside out.

Mile High Pixie said...

"...if you do some architectural drinking, do not do it near one of Mr. Gehry's buildings..." Baaahahaahaaa! Truer words were never spoken, Faded. Viewing Gehry's buildings under the influence of alcohol will make you think the world has finally ended and all the buildings are melting around you. Then you trip and pierce yourself on a piece of pointy titanium. Or would that be death by Liebskind building?

I think Gehry's work looks like he crumpled a piece of paper and then drew that for a building, a la an episode of "The Simpsons."

Anonymous said...

I can definitely see how demolition would be satisfying. Personally, I like shredding--think it has the same visceral appeal.

The Wandering Author said...

Okay, I guess I'm not alone in wondering why anyone would pay to have Mr. Gehry design a building. Although it sounds like a career as a solar heating designer wouldn't have been out of place.

It was interesting seeing how much you could learn just from looking at a demolition site, though. Since Sherlock Holmes failed to produce a monograph on that subject ;-), thanks for taking up the slack, MHP.

Sarge said...

I think Ghery's buildings look like they've melted in the hot summer sun of Death Valley; Daniel Liebskind is the one who just crumpled aluminum foil (instead of paper). Although both of them have interesting ideas, the tour I took through Liebskind's new Frederick C. Hamilton building/wing/expansion of the Denver Art Museum (affectionately known as DAM to the locals) left me with a throbbing headeache. All the accute angles made me feel like the building was attacking me. Nevertheless, there's one really cool space on the fourth level, in the gallery that projects across 13th street, between the existing Ponti building and the Graves-designed expansion to the Denver Central Library, that has the most amazing accoustics. That is to say, it's accoustically dead. Between the angles and the materials in the space, you can't hear the reflection of other people's voices in the caverous volume. In fact, I think it's more quiet in that space than in my doctor's auditory testing booth. Pixie's right, though, don't drink near Liebskind's work. You've had fair warning!