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Only Forward, Like the Shark

Kathleen Griffin Backstory Leave a comment   , ,

“I have a saying in these meetings, ‘only forward, like the Shark.’” – Kathleen Griffin

I am sitting across a desk at Skyscraper, watching Charles Connelly, Jr. He has been on the phone with Canada for an hour, finding us the right sized steel part to conform the the current engineering drawings and making sure that the changes we had to make can be completed exactly. Apparently, one of the steel parts they made last year is no longer being made right now, and it’s important that this gets solved today because it is one of those things that could drag out in back and forth. We are trying to have our engineering drawings and rigging plan stamped and submitted next week.


Cheng Gu from Weidlinger has just called back and approved the change.

I have a saying in these meetings, “only forward, like the Shark.” We are in the final aspects of structural and fabrication planning for the giant steel structure that will hold up the butterflies. This is, in many ways, the most critical aspect of the project and we are slowly, slowly honing in, as the drawings go back and forth and get new layers. I presented the first version of this plan two Januaries ago, and there has been a thousand small alterations since, as the butterflies have changed size, and the expectations for wind-loads increased. The steel has been thinned down and then thickened up again. Certain pipe sizes have stopped being made and we are back to refitting the steel. Through all of this I have sat looking at lists and drawings. Looking at them like foreign maps, that I only partially understand. Numeric expressions of bolt pads and the inside and outside dimensions of pipes that sleeve onto one another, I, of course, understand metal and how to build things, but the numbers and hardware connections when all translated into codes and numbers can scare the hell out of me. Before this I had a much more physical understanding of building, as something that is done as part of a process. This is totally conceptual, everything must be perfect long in advance of even thinking of starting. The one thing I understand is that in these 30 page books of numbers is that there can be no mistakes, if anything does not fit exactly on site, if any hardware connections don’t line up, then the piece will not work.

There to navigate me through this is Charles. He, in contrast to myself, seems to thrive on going over the plans and numbers meticulously again and again. At this point I think he has every page memorized. This is what lets me sleep at night. My trust that he has this all under control.

I guess I should explain how this fat book of numbers came about. At first I just had a pencil drawing. Which describes an idea, but not a reality. My renderings of the building came from observing it, so there was a giant gap between my eye and the numeric expression of the building. So I worked with our model maker Samuel Langkop on some architectural drawings of the building. He built the actual model of the building from those plans, that was accurate to reality. Or at least more accurate. We then presented those models to Maria Wilpon, our principal architect and later to Weidlinger Associates, our structural engineers. From there, we started designing possibilities of what the suspension system that lifts the butterflies might look like.

There were a whole bunch of ideas presented, some had cables, some had three arms and were more unit-like. Samuel built all of these in model form and we got to play with them like a tiny doll house, placing them in different places in different numbers. He and I worked on that phase for weeks, often times over beer at Cafe Bar in Astoria. When we roughly had chosen a placement, sizes, distances and a number of actual arms and butterflies, Samuel then converted that back into an architectural drawing that we represented to Maria and Weidlinger. Weidlinger then chose a design and translated that into specific metal parts and weights. They added in the math.

Since then those drawings have been presented and we have to figure out a bunch of things, like how exactly that structure attaches but more specifically gets put on the building and with what? And how we will do this without damaging existing drainage or putting cranes too close or too far away? Then a detailed list of each exact piece of metal and its assemblage are made. Another book is assembled of the cranes themselves. This is all put together and sent back to Weidlinger who stamps it and sends it back to SkyScraper, who will be overseeing both fabrication and installation.

It is very exciting but sometimes scary – not for anyone else, they are all used to this, but for me, the first timer. So, it is that final book which is getting wrapped up this week.