Transforming a workhorse into a show horse is difficult. The workhorse in this case was a triangular, eight-story, 1923 cold-storage warehouse, two blocks south of the Washington Mall. The show horse is the Museum of the Bible. The design team, led by architect David Greenbaum of SmithGroupJJR, decided to remove every other floor to obtain the 20-ft floor heights needed for the exhibit spaces. The owner “engaged Clark Construction as CM-at-risk,” says Greenbaum, calling them “the most team-based.” The firms had worked together on the National Museum of African American History.
“We had to completely support the facade on the upper two floors of the building, demolish the interior slabs, rebuild new structure behind the facade and re-attach the skin,” says Brian Flegel, senior vice president, Clark Construction.
The foundation proved to be the greatest challenge. “We wanted to lower the existing basement as much as we could,” adds Flegel. “The column footings had bells on the bottom. But as we started test-pitting the foundation system to measure the width of the footing bottoms, we found conflicts. We found a big slab of concrete between the columns—was it structural or not?”
Flegel found a 1923 ENR article about the warehouse construction, but it had no mention of the concrete slab in its description of the structural system. “We decided it was overpour or a slab put in later, so we felt OK to remove it,” Flegal said.
Among the project’s technical challenges Flegel points to removing every other floor slab, which changed the way the building performed structurally and “also changed the way the historic exterior would perform.”
The museum is dramatically topped off with a curving steel-and-glass-framed, two-story gallery, supplied by design-assist fabricator Roschmann Group. It’s unusual to “see a window-wall framing system supporting a floor,” says Greenbaum.
The project, despite all its challenges, was a markedly successful team effort.
Museums are typically 10- to 12-year projects. “From an industry perspective, to go from concept to delivery in five years is unheard of,” remarks Flegel.