Dental Associates Iron Block building is one of the last remaining complete cast iron facades in Wisconsin, and a crown jewel adorning the National Register of Historic Buildings. In November 2015 The National Trust for Historic Preservation presented it one of its four prestigious 2015 Driehaus Preservation Awards. Iconica was the co-recipient for outstanding construction work in restoring this magnificent building at the center of Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
This project’s hidden conditions were a challenge- which can be expected from a building erected before the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Plans for the original 1850s architecture existed, but much on the numerous renovations was not available.
Discoveries lay ahead:
The bulk of the oldest portion consists of triple-wythe Cream City brick bearing walls and rough sawn timber joists. These are BIG joists – 3″x12″ typically – and 8″x8″ or so timber headers and beams. The newer (100 years old) portion had similar brick bearing walls, but a steel column line down the center and a ground to roof atrium to bring light into the structure. We opened up a wall here and a ceiling there, but without extensive demolition, some of the structure remained unknown.
Based on limited information, therefore, our in-house structural engineer designed a solution to accommodate the new open floor plans. During construction when walls, floors and ceilings started to be opened up, the process became very fluid. Unexpected conditions were handled expertly by engineers and architects working closely with the subcontracted fabricators and installers. A bit of horse trading ensued. New columns were eliminated if the existing structure turned out to be adequate. Additional support was added when existing walls or columns were not as expected.
Coordinating all of the different levels was a challenge because the building is on a sloping site. The facade is one unit, but inside it was divided into sections with different businesses per section, and the sections followed the slope of the Iron Block hill. Architects unified the whole thing into common floor plates. Though the building was quite long, it was made of solid brick throughout, and needed to be opened for larger expanses of dental areas.
This restoration was successful not only due to the ability of the team to communicate well together, and utilize each-other’s knowledge and ideas, but also due to the client’s understanding of the process, and their willingness to keep an agile approach.