RSA Tower – Controlling The Car Wash

Madison Car Wash LogoOne of the duties an architect has in connection with a major project is to inveigle or otherwise pacify the neighbors around the construction site.  Goodness knows, they are grossly impacted by vibration, noise, dust and traffic.  We knew this would be especially true at the Tower site because of its immense size and the anticipated 900-day duration of construction.  Fortunately, the RSA had bought up so much surrounding ground that many potential complainants were gone from the area and the rest were across wide streets.  There was one exception–the Madison Car Wash.

The car wash was located immediately adjacent to the chiller building site, where we planned to bury the entire cooling plant and electrical service which was to feed the Tower.  We were going to dig an enormous hole 25 feet deep just five feet from the west wall of the Madison Car Wash detail shop.  The dust from our operation would be most detrimental to car washing.  The chaos would discourage its customers.  And to top it all off, we needed to hold back the timber shoring of our excavation “cut-off wall” with steel tie rods which extended some 20 feet back under the car wash property.

It was my job to prepare Richard Johnson, the owner of the car wash, to benignly accept all the pain we were about to inflict, and in spite of that pain to allow us to drill under this detail shop.  It was another daunting assignment. I could think of no amenity which our construction might offer as a bribe, and leaning on Johnson’s civic pride appeared to offer no hope.  How should I approach this delicate task?  We studied our site survey of the property over and over, and finally the solution came.  According to our survey, the wall of the detail shop was only two inches from the common property line, and I had a crew dig down to its footing.  Sure enough, five feet below the surface we found that the toe of the shop footing protruded a demure four inches over the line.  That was just the wedge I needed.

Armed with that knowledge, I sauntered into the car wash lobby and requested an audience with the proprietor.  The two of us stood out on the open portico of his establishment and I pointed skyward to where the top of our building would be.  It was hard to believe in 1992.  I laid out the scope of our undertaking, and spuriously pretended that we would excavate hard against the side of his detail shop.  Continuing with the deception, I explained that he would be required to cut off the toe of his shop footing “which protrudes into the RSA property”.  This set off alarm bells in Johnson’s head, which was my intention, because such an operation would destroy the footing and the shop building in turn.

After an appropriate pause, I offered a solution.  “If the contractor were allowed to drill in some tie rods under your detail shop, the excavation could be moved outward a few feet, and we could quietly ignore your across-the-line footing.”  “Oh yes, by all means, do that,” exclaimed Johnson. We went on to treat the Madison Car Wash as kindly as we could, and I suppose the RSA wound up as a good neighbor.  Richard Johnson allowed the contractor to drill in the ties under his shop, and to my knowledge gave us no trouble throughout the construction period.  No doubt my prevarications were borderline ethical, but they solved the problem.  You do what you gotta’ do.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Tower stories. The rest can be found here.

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