A journey of a thousand miles …

Demolition for the Sunset Electric Building has begun. For some, the construction fence and subcontractors and trades on site mark the end of a turf war between for-profit postering and militant feminist installations. For us at WT, this marks the start of breathing new life into a building that has fallen into disrepair, with its last few years providing little more to the neighborhood than a canvas for graffiti. With its proximity to Cal Anderson Park, its extension of retail along 11th Ave, and activation of the sidewalk and private alley along E. Pine Street, this building can – and will – be so much more.

Visible from the street through the empty garage door opening on 11th Ave and the alley window openings, the non-structural elements are being selectively demolished

Some pieces are being set aside for salvage, most notably the old-growth timbers in the primary structure of
the mezzanine.

You might wonder – why is demolition happening in this way? Why not keep those mezzanines and
non-structural partitions?

Or, why not demo the whole thing and just leave the brick on 11th and Pine Street facades?

The 92-unit, mixed-use apartment building will rise five stories above the “character façade” (as defined by a recent ordinance along the Pike/Pine corridor that provides development incentives for retaining some of the historic flavor of Capitol Hill’s auto row).

The brick and terra cotta (complete with its own Sunset Electric emblem)

will be the star of the show in this project; the stories above will be a simple but elegant backdrop, set back slightly from the terra cotta cornice line. But, despite its supporting role, the wood-framed portion of the building above needs its own structural system to handle gravity and lateral loads. This means that, even as the roughly 30’ tall historic building “skin” will remain, the rest of the building behind it will be gutted to allow for the whole building as designed.
One of the interesting and challenging aspects of re-using a historic brick façade – and not the building behind it – is that the roof and floors that have provided lateral stability to that brick for almost 90 years will soon be gone. In order to leave the brick freestanding (though, concrete columns are buried within the brick in some places), the contractor will have to brace the brick and concrete with a robust steel frame. This frame, which remains behind the brick permanently, cannot be attached until temporary horizontal and diagonal steel bracing goes into the basement to support the foundation walls. That temporary bracing cannot go in until several critical concrete foundations and pin-piles are installed. And, those can’t go in all at once – there is a surgical, staggered sequence for that first step. In order for this concrete work to happen – the hauling of debris, the concrete trucks, etc. – the contractor needs sufficient space to maneuver. As a result, we have this initial phase of demolition removing partitions and intermediate floors, but not the main structure of the building (that holds up the roof and exterior walls).

In this photo,

you can see the first saw cuts for the concrete foundation work.

While many quote Confucius as saying “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” some translate the original Chinese to say “the journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” Maybe it’s the urge to fight cliché, but I like the second translation better. It allows for a few interpretations. And, it sure makes a good caption for that photo.

Myer Harrell, AIA, LEED BD+C, Associate



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One Reply to “A journey of a thousand miles …”

  1. Buildings serve several needs of society – primarily as shelter from weather and as general living space, to provide privacy, to store belongings and to comfortably live and work. A building as a shelter represents a physical division of the human habitat (a place of comfort and safety) and the outside (a place that at times may be harsh and harmful).

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