Saturday, May 07, 2011

Steel Beam Vernacular: Brick Factory Lancaster

Lancaster's College Hill Children's Center on 417 W Frederick St and Lancaster Ave is housed in a ca. 1900 brick industrial building, renovated in 2008 by Tippetts/Weaver Architects. The firm, who has done a lot of projects for F&M, has retained the brick shell but also a interior support system of steel columns and beams. Although invisible to the exterior, the interior steel system acts like an umbrella. Mostly, it served for hoisting heavy loads along the production line, but it also engaged in the support of the exterior brick wall.

Rows of columns support three consecutive levels of I-beams. A transverse system meets with the walls and roof, while a longitudinal system supports a moving mechanical rail. My sketch section (left) shows the central steel column that carries three I-beams. The first steel beam carries a track-system that would allow heavy products to be hoisted along the length of the shop floor. The motor of the machine is still in place. It was made in Lebanon, Pa., and it carries a hook marked "1/2 ton" weight limit. The second steel beam, above, extends out to the brick wall and bonds with the masonry. The third steel beam, at the top, extends the other way and supports the wood rafters that carry the roof. The ceiling is so wide that no single joist could span it. The third beam allows for two joists to rest on it and carry the load down to the base of the column.

Essentially the steel beam system carries live and dead loads throughout the building. To guarantee its horizontal stability, the steel columns are anchored to the wall by rods. The photo on the left was taken from Tippetts/Weaver portfolio. The steel system is visible in black. The photo shows how the large space was subdivided for the daycare with a new lighting and climate control system weaving through the old metal vertebrae in black. Resembling the architectural experiments of Viollet-le-Duc, this esosceletal building illustrates innovations in steel technology carried out in the industrial buildings of Lancaster. Decorated with a Georgian idiom, the exterior of this factory disguises the innovations within.

The employees of the daycare referred to the building as an old tobacco mill, which makes sense in this neighborhood. A similar building has been renovated as the Lancaster Arts Hotel, which had a different support system with timber piers. After a little research in the Sandborn Fire Insurance maps of Lancaster, I came up with an identification. The building first appears in the 1912 Sandborn map of Lancaster, although the surrounding five structures appear in the 1897 map. Our adventurous structure was built in the interim, probably closer to 1910. It is marked as the Erecting Shop of the Henry Martin Brick Machine Mfg. Co. The three smaller buildings from 1897 to the East were tobacco warehouses also owned by Henry Martin. Having identified the original structure as a brick factory explains the need for a mechanical pulling system that would run along the length of the open space.

Like the exterior I-beams of 1910s rural architecture in Greece (here), the 1900s row houses and shops of Philadelphia (here, here, here, here). The intricate steel-beam interior of the Martin Brick Factory constitute another great example of vernacular architectural solutions to new materials.

College Hill Daycare Center is affiliated with Franklin & Marshall. If we lived in Lancaster, my daughter would be enrolled here. I am sorry that her formative toddler experiences are not informed by the ingenuity of industrial Lancaster. Rather, they are informed by the Ecclesiological aesthetics of nineteenth century Episcopalean architecture (see here). For the relationship between F&M and College Hill, see The Diplomat (Sept. 11, 2008)

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States