Demolition to The Nines
by Kennedy Smith
The former Meier & Frank building, covered in scaffolding and emitting the familiar construction-related clanking, banging, grinding and buzzing, is alive with activity as Hoffman Construction works to transform the upper 10 floors of the 100-year-old building into a luxury hotel, The Nines
Hoffman is working alongside contractor S.D. Deacon on the building – Hoffman is in charge of the hotel renovation and Deacon will work on the lower floors, dedicated to retail space occupied by Macy’s. The store will close at the end of the year as more intense demolition and renovation begins.
The structure is an experiment in duality – Hoffman working with S.D. Deacon, and historic preservation aligning with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental Design silver rating standards.
Brian Craner, a project engineer, walks the grounds, pointing to the debris chute and several bins of material ready for recycling.
“What’s happening right now is primarily demolition, getting into the structure,” he says. “We spent the majority of the fall going through and tearing down the existing partitions, moving out furnishings and equipment and working on old piping systems – basically tearing apart the structure and getting ready for the structural upgrades by removing big portions of it.”
DJC: Where does the debris go?
Brian Craner: It all gets sorted out here by the type of material, whether concrete, metals or wood, and they’ll be going to their respective recycling facilities. Because this is a LEED project, we’re going through the recycling process.
• • • •
CRANER CONTINUES his pace as he heads up a set of temporary stairs onto an industrial elevator that will eventually lead to the 13th floor. The elevator halts and the door slides up to reveal what looks like a contained war zone – tubes, hoses, columns, hanging wires, piles of wood and concrete. The two most noticeable features are the gaping hole in the ceiling where the mezzanine will be, and the fact that there’s mud on the floor.
• • • •
DJC: What are we looking at here?
Craner: This is the 13th floor. We always joke about the existing floor labels and the new ones, because they change. Are you on the old 12 or the new 12? This 13 will eventually become level 12.
The building was built in phases – the northwest quadrant was basically 1908, the east side was built in 1914, and the block got filled in around 1930 – so when you go around you see a lot of different structural types, which really has been our big challenge.
When you come up and do a work activity and you’re trying to work with a structure, you think you have a rhythm down or an understanding. Then you move 20 feet and it’s a completely different era of construction. Instead of beams like this (Craner points to concrete beam), you might have a totally different deck structure. When we go down to the lower floors, you’ll see the columns down below are different eras of steel, from rolled shapes to built-up shapes. Once you get into the structure you start seeing all these different things, so there’s not necessarily a rule of thumb that you can apply to the entire building.
• • • •
CRANER WALKS TOWARD the hole in the ceiling, where the roof is exposed, showing a mish-mash of HVAC systems, fans and utility boxes that have been plopped on top of the building throughout the years.
• • • •
Craner: This is our first push on taking the roof off. You can see up top, in the 1960s, somebody came in and did a bunch of renovations to the building to include putting an air handler on top of the building, and you find a lot of ductwork throughout, so we’re working on that. As we work our way down the roof, we work our way down to the history of the building.
You see all these doghouses and rooftop penthouses that were added on over the years.
DJC: How does mud get on the 13th floor?
Craner: In that space there used to be an old fur locker, and the ladies from town would come in right before the summer and turn them in to have them kept in cool storage over the summer. That space was aligned with thick cork walls for insulation, and this has been ground down with other materials, and that’s what we’re stepping in.
DJC: When you’re doing a project like this, you have to consider historical preservation. How do you demolish something but also make sure you’re preserving certain parts from the past?
Craner: The design team and their consultants have provided guidance in regard to what will stay and what is considered historical, and what the National Parks Service registrar of landmarks considers historical.
The whole façade essentially is considered historical. It’s terra cotta, so there will be some somewhat surgical demolition activity where we’re coming up to the face of the building and we’re moving some old structure but having to preserve the terra cotta façade.
Another aspect of the preservation is the Georgian Room, which has been here for years. We put a lot of effort into salvaging the trim and other aspects of that room that were considered historic, so we can bring them back and incorporate them into the new space. We’re mainly directed and guided by the design team, and we work hard to fulfill those requirements.
• • • •
UNLIKE the lower floors, the 13th still has a bit of demolition to go before upgrades can begin.
• • • •
DJC: What phase are you in here?
Craner: The structure of this building is a concrete-encased steel structure. The concrete was used as fireproofing but really doesn’t have a structural body to it, so we have to go in here and upgrade the columns, the brace frames, the connection plates. As a precursor to that, the demolition crew comes in and starts removing the concrete so that our ironworkers can come in and make the upgrades. That’s the phase that we’re getting into right now. The rooftop demolition and selective demolition will pave the way for the ironworkers, and then we’ll come back and work our way down from the atrium.
DJC: People think of demolition as going at a wall with a wrecking ball, it’s but more meticulous than that, right?
Craner: There is some of that, but you’re also looking to preserve the steel and create a workable surface. You’re working on demolishing next to items that are going to stay as critical structural components. It does take an extra level of care.
There’s this balance, where you want to keep the speed and momentum up, and then you get into the more detailed work, which slows the pace a little bit.
DJC: What’s your favorite part of doing a renovation like this?
Craner: I like the structural upgrade portion; it’s a sophisticated system of damper frames, a little different from traditional brace frames. There are pistons inside the damper frames that will slow down the building seismically. It’s all about taking the building down to its simplest form and building it back up, which is very exciting.
Like I said, it was built in three eras, so you just saw 1908, which was built at a shorter elevation than the rest of the structure. When we come through and do our rooftop demolition, we’re coming down to an elevation on three quarters of it, but that northwest corner comes down a little further, and when we build it back up it will get a new façade.
• • • •
WHILE CRANER explains the process, he descends to lower levels – ones that look a bit clearer but still dusty. He points to an area near the center of the floor, indicating that’s where the mezzanine will be. Soon, this – the eighth floor and all those above – will feature a huge, gaping hole, just like what the 13th level already has.
• • • •
DJC: With all the different eras this building was constructed, it must be like constant problem-solving when it comes to demolition.
Craner: Right. The design team puts out a set of documents and they do a very good job with historical prints, but there’s only so much you can gain from that. Then we have conversations with them about what we’re finding out and they address it as we go. All of our subcontractors are working with the talent of the design team to keep moving it forward.
Like right here (Craner points along a beam in the ceiling), we might be going along doing demolition and we think we have it figured out and then it changes just like that.
DJC: You’re working from the top down, right?
Craner: The flow of work is based on how we have the floors turned over to us by the store. It’s sort of an opportunistic way of getting the flow down, in the early stages. But obviously with the atrium, we’ll be working from the top down, letting gravity work for us. That will be the ideal flow.
DJC: It seems like a daunting task.
Craner: Yes, it’s sort of an art. You get to a certain point where you see dust and debris, and you have to ask yourself whether you’ll ever get this thing clean enough for people to actually come and stay, but it’ll get there. It just takes time and effort.
DJC: Have you been sharing information about what you’ve found with Deacon?
Craner: Yes. We have weekly coordination meetings. It’s a unique project. I’m not sure anybody’s done a project like this before, two (contractors) occupying the same building. We have systems running through their floors, so we have to be intimately coordinated.
Early on, both contractors had a good understanding of how we would be working together throughout. We both knew nobody was going to benefit from lack of coordination.