Construction History Society of America at AIA Iowa

Digital reconstruction of 1851 Elijah Otis Patent. Courtesy Lee Gray

A phenomenal crowd this morning for a special Construction History session at the annual AIA Iowa convention–over 100 turned out for two fantastic papers that gave a taste of what the discipline is about.  Thanks to Lee Gray of UNC-Charlotte and Meghan Elliott of Meyer, Borgman, & Johnson in Minneapolis for taking the time to talk about their research.

Dr. Gray’s work covers early elevator construction, and he showed some amazing reconstructions of early patent drawings by Elijah Otis and Otis Tufts (what was it about the name ‘Otis’?)  By reconstructing otherwise impenetrable drawings in three virtual dimensions, Gray is able to show how these early mechanisms worked (or, perhaps, didn’t) and what they suggested as the field moved forward.  He’ll be on an episode of NOVA in November…worth checking out.

C.A.P. Turner's Four Types of concrete construction. Images courtesy Meghan Elliott

Meghan Elliott is a consulting structural engineer whose specialty over the last few years has been historic concrete structures in Minneapolis, and her work on C.A.P. Turner combines historic preservation and preservation technology with a practical interest in the larger historical context in which these buildings were constructed.  She’s presented at the first two CHSA Biennial meetings and her explanations of how Turner developed his ‘four-way’ slab system (you thought there could only be two, didn’t you?) give some real insight into the methods available to engineers and builders of the early twentieth century.  Turner’s design methodology involved extensive empirical testing, which proved to have important consequences; he tested his slabs fresh out of the forms, and it didn’t become apparent until too late that the natural cracking and creep that affects concrete had somewhat frightening consequences for long-term deflection.

Lee, Meghan, and I are going to reprise this presentation for the AIA Minnesota conference in early November–we’ve got a bit more time, so I’m going to add a brief summary of my plate glass research.  Many thanks to everyone who showed up this morning–it was a real pleasure to talk to such a large crowd!

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