Shh! Don’t tell my clients, but I split my effort on about 35 projects in 2014. They’ve ranged in scope and complexity. Not a single one involved a stadium or a high rise – the types of structures my company is most associated with. I’m very proud of this diversity and my niche for atypical projects. That each project presents a new and unique challenge is what keeps me coming in each day for more.
There were at least a half-dozen carry-overs from prior years. One of my last assignments in 2013 continued through the new year and was among my final tasks of 2014. A legal support project, it may have staying power for years to come. Another major continuing project has been on the books since 2010. We finally achieved substantial completion for the first phase of the project over the summer. After years of hard work, it was really nice to celebrate the grand opening of Saieh Hall for Economics at the University of Chicago with the design team, contractors, and end users. It has been really fun to visit the site while class is in session and to see how students and faculty interact with the contemporary renovation of an historic building.
Although I consider Saieh Hall to be among the most impressive projects in my repertoire, another 2014 project may steal the attention in the eyes of Chicago visitors. Since 2012 I’ve been contributing to the renovation of Navy Pier. Portions of the South Arcade finally opened this past Fall. More exciting projects are on the way. Including the design of structural support for new amusements. We’re also trying to help the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre fit a new enclosed performance space under the existing indoor/outdoor Skyline Stage tent. Working on the historic pier has been challenging, particularly as we try to piece together almost a century of prior construction on the site. In the end, it’s really satisfying to know that my work will be experienced at Illinois’ most-visited destination.
My work in 2014 encompassed projects large and small. In early Spring I had a string of interesting small projects: adding a leveling slab to a retirement home renovation, fixing a small slab opening in a clay-tile arched floor, adding roof top air handlers for a new retailer in the Northbridge Mall on Michigan Avenue, and evaluating several existing rooftops for amenity upgrades. One such small project literally walked in the door unannounced. I happened to be near the front desk as an elderly man entered the office and declared that he used to work with the long deceased former owner of the company (before it was bought out). I just stepped in to do my civic duty but ended up with a nice commission to evaluate a bridge on his property whose structural integrity had been questioned by the local fire marshall. We proved up the bridge and maintained a decades-long relationship.
We also sought to maintain a strong relationships with Chicago’s current premier architects. I contributed on three projects for Studio Gang Architects, including their new office space, a municipal building in New York, and a private residence in the Caribbean. As you might expect, each building was designed unique for it’s purpose and with entirely different building materials and procedures that have stretched my knowledge of structural materials. Similarly, two projects with Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects challenged us to expand our understanding of the transformative nature of architecture. In addition to work at Navy Pier, we collaborated with them on early plans to redevelop the old Studebaker car factory in South Bend, Indiana into a community-inspiring multi-use development.
My favorite story of transformation, however, is happening again at the University of Chicago. We are evaluating a building purpose-built in the 1960s by NASA to evaluate the Moon rocks retrieved on the Apollo missions. Originally designed with two below-grade levels and two above grade, we are adding another two floors. In the spirit of scientific innovation, we are attempting to integrate the structural and mechanical systems into a radiantly heated and cooled slab. Similar approaches have been tried in the past in formed slabs, but we’re hoping to accomplish this with composite metal deck with deep flutes that increase effectiveness. Getting City approvals for the new system is a task for 2015!
Finally some fun: Zombies and daredevils were big in 2014. We nicknamed one investigation the Zombie Barge, and another heavily reinforced building the zombie apocalypse survival bunker. The later is finally under construction following permit delays and the owner’s directives to make it a truly unique space. But the bit of engineering that most had us holding our breath culminated in Nik Walleda’s history making walk across the Chicago River, 500 ft in the air. We were hired by the buildings on either end of the walk to make sure that the tightrope equipment didn’t damage the buildings. However, we understood the safety of the daredevil and the buildings were literally tied together. We had to make some judgement calls on the spot and really toed the line between risk and confidence in our engineering acumen – without taking a step on the tightrope!
I guess it was a pretty busy year. As with past years, the project started in 2014 will continue on, and we’ll hopefully realize the culmination of our efforts in 2015 and beyond.