Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Existing Conditions and Phase 1 Demolition of 5x30

Existing Conditions and Phase 1 Demolition of 5x30

With my friend’s restaurant and apartment building moving into its first demolition phase, I’ve been asked to help with developing demolition plans for the existing 2nd floor apartments. My good friend has decided to develop this building over time and his first step will be to lighten the load of the building so that he can have a contractor come in and lift the building up. This will allow us to install a new floor on the ground level.

Existing conditions on the ground floor

So you might be wondering, “Why does he need to lift the building?”

When my friend purchased this old abandoned building, he knew that the interior would be a disaster and that the building might cave in at any moment. However, there was a lot of sentimental value with this particular building and he decided to go through with the purchase. During the spring of 2016, he invited me to stop by and check out his building.

The moment I set foot into the dark building, I heard droplets of water in a few locations of the open space. As I carefully walked around the ground floor, I immediately saw that the old floor system was failing and there was a large area that was already collapsing. The old wood beam, brick wall, and joists were rotting and a majority of them were very brittle.

Wood floor and brick foundation wall collapsing

Encountering a major structural issue

As I took a few steps back and stood at the entry of the other storefront area, I noticed a structural issue within the building that needed immediate attention. So I called my friend over and pointed to what used to be a wall centrally located in the space. The wood framing, which was missing a majority of the vertical supports, was falling apart.

Structural framing missing supports

In the photo, you can see that the vertical support on the left was splitting slightly above the center. If you look closer at the photo, the wood framing around the roof drain was cut, which means that the wood frame was not being supported on either side of the drain pipe. With all of the constant moisture and water damage occurring in the space, the building was on the verge of collapsing.

Temporarily solving the structural issue

After my friend and I talked about the issue with the structural wood framing, he contacted a contractor to build a temporary wood support wall to hold the center of the floor joists above. This was a critical area that needed to be supported because the span of the joists ends at the center of the room. So there are 2 joists that slightly pass one another right above the support.

Temporary structural framing to support floor joists above

Once this temporary wall was installed, my friend went through and cleaned up some of the garbage in the space. He also went around and placed some plywood on the ground so that we could safely walk to the other side of the building. While he was cleaning, he discovered a beautiful old telephone booth that was a part of the original bar.

Walking through the 2nd floor

After the structural supports were installed on the ground floor, I felt comfortable going up to the 2nd floor and taking a look at the apartments. So we made our way up the old stairs and entered an old 1 bedroom apartment. I should note that the apartments are identical on both sides of the building, so we walked through the one that was the safest.

Upon entering the apartment, there is an old fireplace that was filled in and what appeared to be a furnace on the ground. The large window is new and the previous owner left the stickers on the glazing. On the other side of the living room is a smaller area with an exterior wall and window that opens up to a light well.

Old decorative fireplace and furnace

Encountering the 2nd structural issue

With some close inspection and brainstorming, the exterior walls that create the light well were constructed by the previous owner and are a structural concern. You can see in the photo that the window, wall, and floor are all sloping towards the right, which is going towards the center of the building.

Failing exterior wall with no structural support below

This is happening because the weight of the new exterior walls, roof, and kitchen are all pushing down on the joists below. Beneath these exterior walls, there’s no frame or column to add structural support for all of the weight coming from above. So we noted this as an important item to investigate and to resolve in the first demolition phase of the building.

Existing kitchen and bedroom

The next room on the right side of the light well is the kitchen, which has its own boiler unit in a small nook and a stove adjacent to the boiler. Due to all of the moisture and weather that has entered the building over time; all of the paint was peeling away, which revealed a portion of the lath below. This kitchen also leads to the bedroom and bathroom, which are both in bad condition.

Existing kitchen and bedroom beyond

Developing a demolition plan for phase 1

After developing some conceptual and schematic designs for the restaurant and studio apartments, my friend reached out to me and asked if I could develop a demolition plan for the 2nd floor. This initial demolition phase would not include removal of exterior doors and windows, but will include all nonstructural interior walls and the exterior walls around the light well.

2nd Floor Phase 1 Demolition Plan

His goal is to remove as much weight as he could on the 2nd floor and to fix the structural issue at the light well so that he could hire another contractor to lift portions of the building up. This will allow him to level and reconstruct the floors in his building so that they’re structurally sound and safe to walk on. He’ll also be able to install a new roof and get his building ready for winter in Buffalo.

Next steps

My friend and I recently met to catch up on our lives and to briefly talk about his ideas for demolition. I mentioned a few issues that we would have to investigate and resolve prior to finishing the demolition plans for the 2nd floor. So we’re looking into the existing conditions in the light well at the roof and all around the opening in the exterior brick façade. We’ll come up with details to remove the exterior walls around the light well and infill the brick wall so that the studio apartment could be continuous from end to end.

Hopefully, this first phase of demolition will begin in the coming months and will go smoothly.


One Seneca Tower Mixed Use Team Design Charrette

One Seneca Tower Mixed Use Team Design Charrette

Material development for 5x30 through renderings

Material development for 5x30 through renderings