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  • Want to Save an Old Brick Building? Read This...Damp Proof Course - Protecting Brick from Destructive Moisture Damage

    What is rising damp? Rising damp affects the walls of old brick buildings at their bases up to about three feet above grade, especially older brick buildings with brick foundations. It occurs when moisture from the ground travels up through the brick walls by capillary action. This action means that groundwater is effectively sucked up through tiny tubes in the bricks, like a series of straws. This water contains salts that also travel up through the wall. Around the affected wall, other porous building materials, such as plasterwork and timber, are in the floorboards and joists. These materials will also absorb the groundwater easily, and as a result, you may find evidence of wet rot in the timber. Rising damp is generally first noticed by the damage it causes to a building's internal walls. Plaster and paint can deteriorate, and wallpaper tends to loosen. A visible stain often appears on the wall as a "tide mark" at the point where the groundwater has reached. You may also see salts blooming on the internal surface. This is often associated with rising damp and will lead to the debonding of paints and even plasterwork. Externally, mortar may crumble, and white salt stains may appear on the walls. Very old bricks in the Memphis area, pre-1910, disintegrate and crumble. This is because, before 1910, much of the brick used in mid-South construction was not fully fired, i.e., not heated enough when manufactured, leaving the clay especially susceptible to destructive moisture damage. How to treat and stop rising damp? Until recently, stopping rising damp meant extensive reconstructive work, basically requiring replacing the bottom bricks and mortar in a wall in sections. Over the past twenty years, new European technology has made this repair much more feasible and economical. It uses injection methods that often do not require replacing existing bricks. Injecting damp-proof courses (DPCs) into existing brick buildings is a practical solution for addressing specific moisture issues without extensive demolition or reconstruction. At Ozer Engineering, our commitment to innovative solutions in structural preservation was recently showcased during the renovation of the historic Somerville Museum in Somerville, TN. Our team, led by Dmitry Ozeryansky, P.E., implemented a technology commonly used in Europe to address rising ground moisture issues plaguing the museum's archaic brick structure. This was accomplished by injecting Koster Crisin 76 low-viscosity synthetic resin. Injecting damp-proof courses into existing brick buildings involves drilling holes into the brickwork, injecting DPC material into the holes, and sealing the injection points. This method effectively creates a horizontal barrier against moisture wicking up from the ground, helping to protect the building from dampness and, even more importantly, for structural engineers, protecting the archaic brick and mortar from disintegration. This can help significantly extend the service life of our oldest and most historically significant brick buildings. Ozer Engineering is proud to bring this much needed technology to Memphis. If you are considering whether or not this treatment would be a good choice for your historic brick building, call us to discuss. 901-305-6450.

  • Pinch District - Historic Synagogue Faces Unknown Future

    In the heart of Memphis' Pinch District at 112 Jackson Avenue, across from St. Jude, stands an aging building with architectural character and cultural heritage. The former Anshei Mischne Synagogue, built in 1927, was Memphis's first. It's a monument left by the early immigrants who made the Pinch District Memphis's first Jewish community. Now owned by Jack Schorr III, the synagogue has gone through many incarnations since it was deconsecrated in the late 1960s. Schorr, also the proprietor of adjacent Westy's bar, purchased this property with the dream of transforming the building into an expanding restaurant and entertainment venue. However, as time has passed, the reality has set in that the deterioration of the building has outpaced its potential for restoration efforts. Now, the future of the structure is unknown. Recently, I sat down and talked to Jack candidly about his hope for the structure. He told us he feels it "needs to be saved," and his "priority is to save the building." This means he is now willing to put his past dreams behind him and sell the building to someone willing to restore it. Jack Schorr has come to the realization that if a buyer can't be found, he may have to tear the building down. Despite being deconsecrated as a place of worship, its significance as a symbol of local Jewish heritage remains undeniable, it still resonates deeply with older Memphians who attended temple there as children, and who take a short detour to drive by and check on it when they come downtown. Thus, the purpose of this blog is to urgently convey that there is still time to save this building if the Memphis Jewish community is willing to do so. But the time to act is now. "About two years ago," Jack said, "architect Berry Jones fought to get the word out, and several local Jewish leaders came to look at the building, but it didn't go further, and now the building is in worse shape." Sometimes, if a building can't be fixed properly and made safe, it has to be torn down. This is the risk facing this building. I understood this property's plight when I was asked to provide a structural assessment and rehab design for the planned restaurant in 2017. When I walked inside, I immediately realized that the main space would make a splendid setting for social gatherings with its pleasantly proportioned mezzanines and great east-facing arched windows. Also, as a structure, there is good news... The cast concrete basement and conventional foundation are well-built and in good condition. The sturdy yet forgiving wood-framed floor still has plenty of capacity to support a congregation—or dance party, for that matter. The rehab work that is needed is above the foundation. The wood framed roof, still adequate, is being rapidly degraded by leaks. The east brick veneer wall, shown below on the right side of photo, with tall window arches, and a poorly detailed stylized parapet design that allowed stormwater to infiltrate and degrade the brick, requires stitching, masonry repair and repointing, and anchor installation. The front facade needs careful restoration, repair, and anchoring so that its elegantly proportioned and delicately ornamented features can once again dignify and enliven a small Southern city street. This work needs to be done by a team experienced in restoration, under the supervision of a sympathetic structural engineer, and with adequate funds to complete it properly. Jack and Berry still discuss it regularly, wondering whether it could still find new life as a museum, a gallery, or a space for music, entertainment, and socializing. But they also realize that time is running out to save it. If you are interested in historic Memphis building preservation, Memphis Jewish heritage, or the Pinch District revival, please get in touch with us for more information. Whatever happens, we will feel good knowing we raised awareness that this historic structure is at risk. Dmitry Ozeryansky, P.E. Ozer Engineering 901-305-6540

  • Want to Save an Old Brick Building? Read This... Anchor Reinforcement - Keeping the Walls and Floors Connected

    You've seen the steel or cast iron plates on the faces of brick walls downtown. Sometimes they're stars or diamonds, sometimes plain squares. They are there because they serve an essential purpose. They are an affordable solution to strengthening our brick buildings for another generation. They are literally anchors. Like a ship's anchor that keeps the boat from floating, these anchors keep the exterior walls of a building from “floating” and eventually falling away from the floors and roof. When brick buildings were constructed years ago, floor joists were supported at each end by inserting them into pockets in the brick walls. These joist ends were stabilized by friction and mortar acting as glue; no mechanical connections were used. The brick wall thus carries the cumulative weight of all the building's floors and roof. On the other two sides of the building, typically the front and back, the joists run parallel to the walls and are not even in contact with them. Fast forward 100+ years: the old mortar glue has failed. The walls have started to shift, bow, or lean due to several actions, including temperature differentials, moisture degradation, wind events, and eccentric loading. The hard truth is that our old brick buildings in Memphis are "time bombs"  when it comes to the risk of collapse because the bricks and the mortar are slowly breaking down & disintegrating. It typically takes 150 years for the old archaic brick and mortar to turn to clay dust and loose sand. However, this process is greatly accelerated by high moisture at the foundations and tops of walls. Evidence of this is something we commonly see on inspections of old brick buildings. This is where the anchors come in. The steel plates you see are structural retaining washer plates securing, or anchoring, the ends of rods used to attach floor joists or beams to brick walls. The rods go through the brick wall and secure the joists or beams to the anchor plate on the outside, essentially "tying" the floors to the walls. This restrains the wall's lateral movement and ensures that the joists and beams remain fully seated in their pockets. This improves load transfer between floors and walls in all three axes. This relieves the aging and compressing brick walls from destabilizing eccentricities. Since wall stability failure is most commonly the cause of collapse for this building type, this repair significantly extends the useful life of the building. Think of this as the "weakest link" or "low-hanging fruit" approach to structural strengthening. It will give our precious historic urban buildings another generation or two of useful service life. This anchoring should usually be installed on all four sides of a building, on each floor and roof. And yes, it is also a relatively low-cost and effective way to provide seismic stabilization. This is often the first step of a multi-pronged strategy to preserve a building of this type comprehensively. But used alone, it can, in some cases, be an economical way to keep these buildings safe and serviceable for another generation or two. And this practical method has stood the test of time. With roots from Roman times, tie rods and anchor plates have been trusted to reinforce masonry structures. They have become a standard tool in restoration because they are dependable and practical. At Ozer Engineering, if you have an aging brick building and would like to preserve it or renovate it, we recommend an assessment to determine if these anchors are a good solution. We can then lay out a placement plan.

  • Adaptive Reuse: Breaking Ground on a Small Brick Storefront with Big Ambitions.

    In Memphis on Bowen Ave, an aging brick storefront building - typical of many built early in the last century - encountered significant challenges that required a creative solution to avoid demolition. The extremely vulnerable two-story structure was partially constructed of archaic hollow clay tile and also unreinforced brick. The second floor and roof wood framing were severely rotted due to long-term roof leaks. The owner and GC, Dane Forlines, was working with a tight budget considering the condition of the structure, less than $100,000. Enter our principal engineer, Dmitry Ozeryansky, who brings a practical and cost-effective approach to the table that will also bring an open and spacious contemporary feeling to the old storefront. Rather than opting for a conventional renovation of both floors, the decision was made to remove the second floor entirely, providing an opportunity to create an 18' high retail space. This ambitious plan, however, required a strategic solution to reinforce the building without breaking the bank. The design relied on the use of 12x12 timber columns strategically placed around the building's interior perimeter. These columns, spanning 18' tall, were interconnected and strengthened with steel cables, and timber girts. This created a robust timber skeleton within the existing fragile brick shell. This not only addressed structural concerns (both gravity and lateral support as well as bracing of the brick walls) but also allowed for the second-story windows to fill the space with natural light, making the space more appealing for retail use. This particular building is the future home of Cxffeeblack. Dane, the driving force behind the project and a dedicated contributor to Memphis revitalization complimented Dmitry's approach, stating, "Your practical approach to addressing challenges and your willingness to take on one-of-a-kind projects are among the main reasons I wanted to work with you on this project." "Your practical approach to addressing challenges and your willingness to take on one-of-a-kind projects are among the main reasons I wanted to work with you on this project." - Dane Forlines The simplicity of the timber skeleton's design brought about cost efficiencies. Unlike traditional finishes that can significantly contribute to project costs, the industrial aesthetic of exposed timbers and cables requires no additional finishing. Additionally, the use of solid timber exceeding 8"x 6" ensured natural fire resistance, adding a safety element and satisfying the Fire Codes. Beyond the structural transformation, the project will retain the historic exterior charm of the building, aligning with the growing trend of adaptive reuse projects that preserve neighborhood storefront appeal. This cost-effective design sets a practical precedent for investors and owners looking to rejuvenate aging structures without exceeding budget constraints. As this Bowen Ave structure is transformed, it stands as a testament to the power of adaptive reuse to breathe new life into urban landscapes affordably. At Ozer Engineering we say: "Bring us your tired old buildings, and we will help you revive them!" This project is currently under construction. Stay tuned to see how it develops.

  • CONDO ASSOCIATIONS - What Benefit Does a Structural Engineer Bring to a Project?

    If you are in the greater Memphis area and are about to take on any of these projects at your association, please give us a call for a consultation to discuss. roof replacement balcony, deck, stair, landing repairs or replacement facade repairs locating water intrusion sources and repairing planning for alterations or additions We will cost less in the long run than you anticipate. And we bring all these benefits: Expert knowledge of your building's existing materials and building systems. Determination of the most practical, economical, and long-lasting repair and protection solutions that will integrate well with what is existing. Cost vs. benefit breakdown of repair vs. replacement options so you can make good decisions. Consideration of your building's historical style maintains consistency and aesthetic appeal. We advocate for the condominium association, meaning our goal is you get the best bang for your buck, whatever your goals. We provide plans and specifications for bidding to ensure all contractors are estimating the same things, no more or less. Our site visits during construction assure quality workmanship. The engineer is critical to the success of the project. Why? The engineer allows the condominium board to stay in control of the project from the outset and not let the contractor run up your bill on things you don't need. The engineer gives you and the contractor the project specs and ensures the project gets completed properly. The only unbiased way to know that your contractor completed a project as they were supposed to with the correct steps and products is by having a third-party engineer provide construction administration. The engineer is YOUR expert and advocate. Even the best contractors are not. Having an engineer assess the needs of the structure and provide a scope of work to be bid and specifications for that scope is the only way to ensure that all the contractors are bidding on the same thing. "What is the worst that can happen if we don't hire an engineer?" Not having an engineer involved from beginning to end typically ends up costing the building more money in the long term in many cases. We have been brought in numerous times AFTER a project was in process or completed by a qualified and well-intentioned contractor who was missing the qualifications on a key piece needed to fix the problem correctly. At that point, the engineer has to come in and assess anyway, and the contracting work has to be redone properly.

  • CONDO ASSOCIATIONS - When is a Structural Engineer Needed?

    Condominium association boards have a tricky responsibility to act in the best interests of the association. This is also very serious because as a board member, you are acting in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of all the owners. So, when it comes to deciding how to best care for the building, there can be a question of when it is best to involve a structural engineer, and when it is unnecessary. After all, your contractors may even tell you that an engineer is not needed. This article will clarify what associations should keep in mind. Some on the board may think, "We can save money if we don't have an engineer involved." Is it always that simple? A structural engineer's role is to ensure anything related to the facade or structure is safe and protected for the long haul. This includes the roof, framing, masonry, balconies, decks, foundations, and waterproofing. These all can have issues with corrosion and damage to concrete, steel, wood, and brick. Are all structural engineers the same? No. The majority of engineers focus on new buildings. OZER is different, we specialize in existing buildings, and we are trained and experienced in understanding how to assess, design, integrate, repair, and protect existing materials. We work with the best contractors in Memphis to make sure that the work is completed to the highest industry standards. Common projects you would want to involve a structural engineer with include: roof replacement balcony, deck, stair, landing repairs or replacement facade repairs locating water intrusion sources and repairing planning for alterations or additions If you notice any signs of building failure, such as water intrusion, cracks in masonry or finishes, foundation cracks, wood rot or swelling, or rust. You are wondering, is this a serious problem? The first step should be to call a structural engineer for an assessment. After all the problem may not be serious if caught early and all you may need is relatively minor, but well-designed repairs to keep it from becoming serious. So, when do you bring the engineer on the project? Do you wait until you have chosen a contractor? That is a common approach, but it is not the best choice. Why? Because you need the unbiased opinion of an engineer before calling a contractor or having contractors provide estimates. That way the contractor is basing their estimate on what the engineer specified, not their own opinions. A contractor has many reasons to be biased, and even though they likely have good intentions, they simply do not have the qualifications necessary to understand the larger structural context and complexities of a building system as a whole. With an engineer in your corner, you are empowered to advocate for the best interests of the association. The overall cost of hiring an engineer pales in comparison to the benefit of having them from the start. Hire an engineer for any of the above-mentioned projects and do so at the beginning of the project process. "What is the worst that can happen if we don't hire an engineer?" Not having an engineer involved from beginning to end typically ends up costing the building more money in the long term in many cases. We have been brought in numerous times AFTER a project was in process or completed by a qualified and well-intentioned contractor who was missing the qualifications on a key piece needed to fix the problem correctly. At that point, the engineer has to come in and assess anyway, and the contracting work has to be redone properly.

  • Metal Building Systems - Case Study: Why Have an EOR?

    Metal building systems, also known as PEMB or "pre-engineered metal buildings", continue to hold a solid market share in the construction marketplace - from strip centers to car dealerships, and office complexes to warehouses. Here at Ozer Engineering, we have been hired to assist with these structure systems by many clients and appreciate the benefits they offer in terms of affordability and ease of construction. Our involvement in these projects from the early planning stages definitely helps the overall project cost less and proceed smoothly. Sadly though, when deciding to purchase one of these building systems, it is not uncommon for the building owner or contractor to forego the services of an engineer to serve as an Engineer of Record (EOR) for the overall project, assuming that an engineer only will be needed to design a simple foundation once the building itself is already designed and ordered from the manufacturer. However, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) highly recommends that the end customer hire an EOR to be responsible for specifying the design criteria for the metal building system. "MBMA highly recommends that the end customer hire an architect and or engineer of record to be responsible for specifying the design criteria for the metal building system. Collaboration is essential..." Here we will share a recent experience that discusses why the involvement of an EOR from the beginning stages can be a key component to a project's success. First, it is fundamentally important to understand how design responsibilities are divided between the manufacturer and the EOR. This division is something commonly not understood by the purchaser of the metal building system. Metal building system manufacturers are responsible for custom designing a building after an order is placed based on the applicable building code, loading conditions, and serviceability requirements. They do have professional engineers on staff who are highly skilled and supply sound engineering principles to design an optimal metal building system for your needs. However, this is where the important dividing line is drawn. The manufacturer is responsible only for the structural design of the metal building system it sells to the builder. The manufacturer is not the design professional or EOR for the construction project. This means the manufacturer is not responsible for the design of any components or materials not sold by them. This includes that they are not responsible for any of the interfaces and connections of other components with the metal building system. This includes the foundation, any existing loading docks or other features on the site, and any other structures it will connect to. Now for our recent experience. We were contacted by an industrial facility that had ordered a metal building system through a general contractor prior to contacting us. By the time they called us they were in a hurry to get the building installed so asked us to move quickly to provide them with a foundation design. This may have been simple if it was entirely new construction, but when we visited the site, we saw the metal buildings were to be placed where there were exiting concrete loading docks, access ramps, and existing metal buildings. The metal building was intended to enclose the loading area over the existing docks and ramp. The metal building system manufacturer had visited the site and was aware of the docks, ramp, and adjacent existing buildings, but hadn't fully accounted for them in their design. The column locations that the metal building system manufacturer had laid out would have encroached about 2' into the docks and ramp, not allowing them to function fully. Once we worked through all the layout details, the owner decided to have the manufacturer go back to their design and move the columns per our layouts, which caused delays in the project. While it's easy to blame the manufacturer or contractor for this oversight, design for complex field conditions is not their area of expertise, that's the job of an EOR. And in truth, the manufacturer and contractor should have told their client, once they had become aware of all the conditions, to get an EOR on board. We hope they both learned a lesson from this and will do so next time a complex existing condition situation arises. For the owner, the assumption that an engineer would not be needed from the start ultimately created greater expense and more importantly lost time that could have been avoided by having us, as an EOR understand the existing site conditions and communicate them during the design process to the manufacturer. If you are considering a metal building system, feel free to call us at 901-305-6540 first.

  • The Importance of Improving Stormwater Drainage in the Mid-South

    The Mid-South region, encompassing portions of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, faces unique climate and environmental challenges. Structures in this area are susceptible to foundation settlements and other deterioration caused by standing stormwater near the foundation. With flat, poorly draining sites, unstable soil conditions, crawlspaces, and high humidity, addressing stormwater drainage issues is crucial to protecting buildings from damage. In fact, this is one of the most common causes of building problems that we are called upon to assess. Ozer Engineering understands the importance of proper drainage and offers comprehensive solutions to resolve these issues. Standing water is the most common cause of of foundation settlements in our region. Excessive water accumulation saturates the soil, leading to settlements, this, in turn, often causes cracking of finishes at both interior and exterior of the house. On slab foundations, the wood wall framing is often insufficiently elevated high enough above grade, which leads to structural damage to wood framing (i.e. rot). Crawlspaces are also particularly vulnerable, with stormwater causing moisture buildup under the house and promoting mold and mildew growth, endangering both the structure and occupants' health. Ozer Engineering conducts thorough site assessments including crawlspaces, identifying drainage problems, and developing comprehensive drainage improvement plans along with repairs to any damaged components. Tailored drainage solutions include grading adjustments, gutters, swales, French drains, and appropriate landscaping techniques. These measures redirect water away from foundations, mitigating or eliminating the risk of standing water. Ozer Engineering emphasizes the value of grading and swales for flat sites with little or no elevation drop. Swales are shallow drainage channels that collect and direct stormwater to the street or to lower areas in the yard, providing natural and environmentally friendly stormwater management. Our stormwater drainage solutions can be incorporated into landscaping designs that enhance property aesthetics. By investing in proper drainage, property owners protect their structures and create healthier living spaces...and healthier landscapes.

  • Preserving History: The Role of the Engineer in Historic Preservation

    At Ozer Engineering, our passion lies in preserving the structural integrity of the historic buildings in our region. With great pride and dedication, we take part in the extensive renovation project of the esteemed Lowenstein Mansion, nestled in the heart of Memphis's Victorian Village. Working alongside architect Andy Kitsinger and folk-hero developer Bill Townsend, we are committed to breathing new life into this cherished landmark while honoring its rich historical significance. Our Developer Historian: The Lowenstein Mansion, a richly detailed mansion built in 1890, then expanded and converted in the 1930s to serve as a boarding house for working women, has held a coveted place on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. Recognizing its timeless charm, William "Bill" Townsend of Townsend Development, the mansion's new owner and a historian, envisions a dynamic co-work facility needed as suburbanites leave their homes for the tighter confines of urban living. Collaborating closely with Kitsinger and our team at Ozer Engineering, Townsend's commitment to preserving the mansion's heritage while infusing modern comforts is commendable. Our Architectural Expertise: Led by architect Andy Kitsinger, known for his expertise in historic preservation, the renovation of the Lowenstein Mansion is a testament to the seamless blending of architectural elements from the past with contemporary design. Kitsinger's meticulous attention to detail ensures that the restoration maintains the mansion's authenticity and charm and embraces the functionality required for modern living. Working hand in hand with Kitsinger, our team at Ozer Engineering combines technical expertise with a deep appreciation for historical preservation. Ozer Engineering's Structural Role: Ozer Engineering has taken a holistic and thoughtful approach to Lowenstein Mansion's renovation. This meant first using our understanding of historic buildings to analyze the load forces and how the building has performed over time. Then, we proposed multiple solutions and assessed their pros and cons with the team. This expertise in structural integrity led to the decision to design a complete internal timber frame capable of supporting the floors and roof. We introduce new CMU shearwalls into the structure to ensure the mansion can withstand wind and seismic loads. The existing brick façade will be preserved throughout the restoration, serving as a visual reminder of the mansion's rich history while maintaining its structural integrity. See more about the progress of this internal timber frame design here.

  • Preserving History: Affordably Engineering an Open Concept Vaulted Space

    This article continues our series on the Lowenstein Mansion project here in Memphis,` outlining the process from imagination to implementation to convert a bearing wall brick building, what we engineers call "unreinforced masonry," into a modern open-concept bright and airy co-working space...and doing it affordably by avoiding use of steel framing. Architect Andy Kitsinger's vision for this building was for the two-story 50' x 40' interior floors of the 1930 Annex to be clear spanning open space. This meant the removal of all interior lath-&-plaster sheathed studwalls on both floors. On the second floor, it also included removing most of the stick-framed ceiling in order to vault into what used to be the attic space. Opening up floorplans can greatly weaken these historic structures, yet it only makes sense for the new uses we imagine for them today, so it needs to be an option for historic preservation. Therefore this desire for open-concept space did not come without its set of challenges. One obstacle early on was that by removing all of the interior lath-&-plaster-sheathed stud walls, we would bring ALL the building loads to the perimeter historic brick walls. This would severely overload the already degrading, nearly one-hundred-year-old materials. Additionally, it would be a severe seismic hazard. So what could we do? A common approach is to use grouted CMU walls due to their economy and strength to resist both gravity and lateral loads, and that's what we did, installing a series of short, full height CMU piers around the inside perimeter of the brick. Next was how to tackle the vaulting of the ceiling. The roof relied on the existing ceiling joists to tie it together so it would not spread. To compensate for removing the existing joists, we created an inner vault under the outer roof, coupled to the rafters to reinforce each other. This vaulted ceiling would now serve as a hybrid roof diaphragm, in conjunction with the roof being the main diaphragm, to redistribute seismic loads to the new shearwalls and tie it all together. This ceiling framing design would have to be strong enough structurally to reach down along the old perimeter brick walls to anchor them where they are still strong. Aging unreinforced brick buildings in the mid-south are delicate structures, and the top of the brick walls of this building are crumbling, which is a common problem. Custom steel trusses were a strong option for the vaulted ceiling support but likely a budget killer for this project, and no doubt many others. So, we decided it would be great to stick frame this structural inner vault out of ordinary lumber and fasteners. This would allow for affordable materials, AND a framing crew could do it without bringing the added cost of specialty subcontractors. So, that is exactly what we designed. A stick frame vaulted truss framing out the ceiling feature, using 2x lumber, 1-3/4 LVL, and off the shelf metal hardware from Simpson strong tie. The integrated vault provides good anchorage for the old brick walls, distributes loads to the new CMU piers, and functions as a diaphragm to strengthen and stabilize the entire annex. This vault has become a central element in our design and is a wonderful example of structure integrating with architecture to create inspiring open spaces efficiently and safely. By going this route and not relying on a conventional steel solution, we were able to achieve substantial cost savings, provide a high level of seismic strengthening, and keep the historic fabric of the roof and eaves as well as the historic brick in place. This project is ongoing and we will link updates here.

  • Strengthening Existing Buildings

    In many parts of the country, including the mid-South, When renovating an older building, it is rare to strengthen it to the performance standards of new construction. The required strengthening tends to be a gray area, where an engineer has some latitude. We approach this case-by-case based on factors such as the customer’s needs, the age and condition of the building, historical precedent for similar projects, and any directives by the jurisdiction. Most older buildings have severe seismic liabilities that were not accounted for when the building was built. Add to this the reality that the brick, mortar, and wood framing have all deteriorated and may continue to degrade due primarily to moisture infiltration and trapping. Also, consider that the proposed renovation will further weaken the building by increasing or adding wall and floor openings as well as material weights. Or even just by removing the lath and plaster sheathed studwall partitions and opening up a floor plan, we are also weakening the structure. These changes may trigger strengthening requirements in the IEBC. Yet in our region, the design engineer and the governing jurisdiction often ignore these triggers. Is this what the owners and architects want? They are investing in a building, expecting that their investment is sound and that the building is safe. At Ozer, we have a high standard of care. We will only work on a building if we can include repairs or strengthening so that when the project is complete, the structure overall is a little stronger and more resilient than it was when we found it. Our rule is that when we are done, we leave a building stronger and safer than when we found it, even if we can't make it as strong as a new building. For example, removing a bearing wall to open up space may weaken the building because that brick-bearing wall serves as a shear wall. So we will add connecting elements to deliver the lateral forces to other parts of the remaining shear wall. Or we may need to strengthen other walls or as a last resort, install new shear walls. That's why we often give the owner a couple of options. The minimum option is it's a little stronger and more resilient than how we found it. The better option is we've fully implemented the IEBC requirements. In either case, the completed renovation can better handle an overload such as a big storm or small earthquake. And it also means we've arrested the decay; some older materials break down much quicker than modern materials. In particular, the old brick and lime mortar, if it's a brick structure. In other cases, deterioration of the wood or steel has begun, and we want to identify and address the source of the moisture intrusion or treat the wood, masonry or steel to protect it down the road. And this is sometimes a complex procedure. Sometimes we are on the defensive; the owner wants to do the bare minimum as they see it: remove the wall and provide gravity supports at the affected area. In such cases, we walk away from the project. For better or worse, other engineers will do the job just as he wishes.

  • Preserving Existing Buildings

    Each time we are asked to work to preserve historic buildings or landmarks, we start by looking at the project from two different perspectives. One perspective is seeing the aspects of the project that are similar to working on new construction. The second is being prepared to foresee characteristics uniquely inherent to aging buildings, which other engineers may not be as familiar with and which may not be addressed by current Codes. The first step is detective work. That is solving the riddle of how the building was built and understanding the archaic materials and systems used and the effects caused by time and moisture. One example, we must understand cast and wrought irons and how they differ from each other and modern steel. Another is being well-versed in the properties and capacities of mortars, masonry materials, and wood products used for construction. Then we determine the extent of the damage and deterioration, the causes, how to mitigate them, and how to integrate and connect the new elements needed to restore it. The mid-South has additional regional challenges, such as requirements for seismic anchorage. Historically, construction materials used in this region of the country were not as high quality as in more industrialized regions. Also, there is a shortage of skilled craftspeople to provide the restoration labor. Budgets for any restoration work are typically tight as well. The buildings we strive to preserve here simply start off having less monetary value than those built in preservation-rich areas such as Chicago or New England. In the mid-South, we will lose buildings to immediate demolition or, more slowly due to substandard work if our proposed solutions are not cost-effective or not fully implemented. Even with this challenge, it is possible to find solutions that stand the test of time, and when we do, it is beautiful. We strive to find clients interested in quality preservation. We must work closely with architects, contractors, specialty craftspeople, restoration and repair industry experts, government agencies, and preservation-focused entities to achieve long-term results.

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