True Stories from the Savvy Surveyor   (not even a taradiddle!)

8 — Columns, Columns... Where Are You?

The following conversation I was having with myself as I was surveying inside a famous seven story building, that was vacant. I was standing on a step ladder, on the mezzanine level, doing "ladder yoga" peeking through a mass of plenum obstructions trying to find the bottom of a column... yes I said BOTTOM... of a column:

"OK here I come ready or not. You can't hide from me any longer you little stumper. I know you are there. I have never seen a column bottom before but I promise you... I will find you. You might as well give it up and show yourself."

"What? Why is it getting dark up here? C-mon flashlight. Don't run out of juice right now. Can't you see we are about to make a major discovery in this mystery? I promise you that when we get back to our plan room I will put some new batteries in you. Please don't let me down now?"

"OK thanks, much better. Now where was I Rex? If I could just get this ladder scooted over a little more to the right but that's not gonna happen. I will have to hold on up here with my left hand, dangle over there as far as I can, and shine this light up that way. That is where it should be according to my rough measurements."

"OK... smile for me you little stumper cause I am coming to see you. I have my camera to prove you exist. Ah-ha I found you! You were an illusive little thing but I finally found you. See it wasn't that bad. I hope the flash didn't hurt your little eyes. So long for now. Bye Bye."

That moment was a long time coming for me. I had absolutely no drawings for that intricate historic icon so I had to discover everything on site. To me the building was like a fine older woman. In her day she was beautiful, rich and famous. But not anymore. She had lived a long extravagant life but now she was a "has been". People passed by her everyday on the sidewalks and never noticed. Most of those people were too young to remember the presence she had on that famous street and the leaders of the world she hosted. Those leaders had all passed away and life had moved on.

Though I was half her age, I thought she was still classy even if she had become a recluse, so to speak. Anyway, it was my job to interview her. I knew she didn't trust me... but she was lonely. I figured she had lots of secrets and I knew my client was depending on me to get her to talk! So I spent time with the legend.


Steel ColumnThis building was like no other building I have ever surveyed. It was seven levels tall and had three basements. It had five sides. Three sides faced the street. Two sides were buried in high rise buildings that also owned her rooftop and built their own improvements up there. No side was perpendicular or parallel with any of the others.

It was winter time and she was vacant, cold, and dark... especially at night. She was quiet except for an occasional eerie clank or subdued whoosh... or wind moaning at one of her broken windows. Sometimes a silhouetted worker, from next door, could be seen quietly walking through her dim and dusty basement halls.

Inside the bolted front door was a very high ornate ceiling but not far back was a mezzanine (a 2nd floor) that, rumor had it, had been added years later. My client wanted to demolish the old mezzanine and have a huge open room. The question was about the columns holding it all up. What was going to be there if the entire mezzanine was removed?

It was almost impossible to get much information about this on level one because of all the hard walls and ceilings. Hard was a good choice of words because the walls were covered with marble and the ceilings were metal lathe and plaster. So I went up to level three (above the mezzanine). There were lots of obstructions but I could see a few column wraps. I went up to level four. Same thing. Level five... bonanza! It was a big open room with columns through out.

So I started there with my sketches and worked my way back down. All the columns on each upper floor were in exactly the same place. The grid was consistent. However, when I went back to the first floor and started thoroughly looking around for column wraps (walls that hide columns) in those particular places I found none. There were column wraps scattered around but they were on a different pattern as those above. OK so then I knew that the mezzanine was added at a later date. Now I needed to look for columns on the mezzanine that were holding up the rest of the floor above.

I went up on the mezzanine and started looking more thoroughly for column wraps. I couldn't find any. That is right, I couldn't find ANY columns. Zero columns. I was perplexed, to say the least. On all the floors above me, there were multiple columns but not on this level. I could not find one column or any sign like a furred out wall where a column could be hiding. I could not find any monster beams overhead that could be holding up five floors above. It was driving me crazy!

So I trudged up the stairs to the top floor (the elevators did not work) . It was a weird floor. It was filled with vacant offices. Huge beams spanned overhead from the front to the rear. Angled bracing came down from these beams and went into the floor. There were no columns up there... only lots of angled bracing. It was then that I had an epiphany, the moment of understanding.

Typical Girder TrussI was actually standing in the attic of the building. I was thrown off guard because it had been built out to be offices. I was thrown off guard because the elevator doors opened into the room. But it was really the attic. The big beams I saw overhead were the top chord of a gigantic bridge type truss beam. The angled braces were just that. They were going down to a steel beam bottom chord underneath the floor I was standing on. What I had discovered was those truss beams were about 10 feet tall, spanning all the way across the building, and I was walking through the middle of them.

So what is so significant about that discovery? Well... The roof was not heavy enough to need roof beams that large. But if someone wanted to hang four lower floors from the roof beams that is what they would need (think massive bridge girder). Because the floor I was standing on was above the bottom chord of the huge girder beams, I could not find where the columns were attached that went down. So I headed back to the mezzanine with a new search plan. To prove my hypothesis I needed to find the bottom of a column.

You know the rest of the story, but let me say this. I have never seen anything like it before and most likely never will. I was glad that I could safely tell my client "Sure no problem tearing out the entire 2nd floor mezzanine. All of the floors above are suspended from the roof trusses!"