Reflections on the Ranch

Reflection the First. I’ve written in the past about the pending demolition of our former headquarters building, now that our new headquarters has completed construction. Well, starting January 1st, the active demolition started: the fences have gone up, and they are prepping the building to come down.

I’m finding it quite interesting to watch the demolition process (and it is oddly relaxing to walk outside to stretch my legs and watch for a minute or two). The first phases were pretty dull: you could see the plastic go up as they did the asbestos removal, see shadowy figures inside the building, presumably removing all the interior partitions and such. This last week or two, however, it has gotten much more interesting. First, they are putting up a sound wall to protect the main campus. This consists of a two-story high scaffolding from which they are hanging heavy plastic coated quilt-like objects from each side (thus creating a blanket-air-blanket sandwich). This isn’t fully assembled, so I can still see the other demolition (it should be up before the main building comes down).

The most interesting part, however, is the further prep for demolition. This week, they started reducing each floor to the bare concrete. This involved breaking the office windows (yes, they broke them, presumably because they wouldn’t remove easy) and removing all the exterior window supports. They did about a floor each day, starting with the windows (lots of glass breaking), and then with the walls (lots of banging to break out the metal side supports). By the time they were done, the only “rooms” that were left were the elevator lobbies and the restrooms (which appear to have concrete support walls). Surprisingly, the restrooms still work — or at least the sinks do, because I’ve seen workers washing their hands! But one could see straight through the floors, and see the honeycomb pattern on the bottom of each flooring slab. They’ve also removed most of the exterior shade panels (except for the ones from the roof): these were lifted up and out whole. At this point, the only floor with the glass still in is the 1st floor, but that might be gone by Tuesday.

As I look at the building reduced to its concrete members, I wonder how much work it would take at this point to retrofit, and why (perhaps) it was not earthquake safe. Our two story buildings are, and they appear to have the same construction. My guess is that it is the height (6 floors) that is a major factor, creating much more swaying, supported only by relatively narrow concrete pillars and the endcaps. If those weren’t steel-reinforced adequately (this is 1963 construction standards), they could be problematic for a 6-floor building, but might be acceptable for a 2-floor building. There is also the possibility that the floors might not be as strongly tied to the pillars, or they would have had to reinforce each floor. I still wonder if, with the building stripped like this, they could retrofit it. I guess not, even if they were to jacket the support pillars and attempt to tie things better.

I’m not sure how they are going to bring the structure down. I don’t think an implosion is likely, due to the risk of ancillary damage. It will either be cutting it apart and removing each piece with a crane, or using a wrecking ball. Are there 6-story wrecking ball cranes?

Watching this has left an impression on me. I now look at our modern buildings, and try to imagine the time when they will be torn down. How will our large steel skyscrapers come down. They can’t easily remove the glass skins safely. In 200 or 300 years, will our downtowns look the same? Our housing tracks? Will they be full of forlorn buildings, seemingly sad as they become devoid of their occupants? Will they look as tired as the stacks of dead streetcars did 50 years ago? It’s odd to look at a building, and think about it devoid of its skin, reduced to floors and support members.

Reflection the Second. Turning to something much happier. Last night, I was reading the Magnet Newsletter for my daughter’s high school. In it, I read that students from the school will be participating in two national Engineering Contests: the Test of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) Contest and the Herndon Science Seminar. The latter item caught my eye because it is sponsored by the ranch. Now, I’ve seen the projects set up in the campus mall before, but I’ve never gone down and looked. This year I think I will, because I might run into someone from Van Nuys. It looks like Van Nuys is the only Valley high school participating in the contest.