Thursday, August 21, 2008

Charity Hospital Redux

RMJM Hillier and their project team gave their assessment of the feasibility of Charity Hospital to provide 21st-century healthcare to the New Orleans metropolitan area. Commissioned by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL), in response to Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution No. 89 (HCR 89), the Hillier-led design team concluded their study in three months.

Their response to the critical questions: "yes, yes, yes." Click here to read the Preservation Alert and see the movie.

The team's assessment in part relied on archival documentation of the Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth structure, as well as on non-destructive technologies whose prototypes were developed during the Cold War by the U.S. military. Robert Silman, the structural engineer noted for his work on Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, was hired to test the 68-year-old building's integrity. In the process, he examined original drawings provided by the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC-MNCLO) Facilities Management Department Archives. Historic photographs revealed that the vast majority of the exterior cracks had appeared during the earliest years of the building's life, as the structure settled into New Orleans' notorious "gumbo."1 Then the settlement leveled off, became asymptotic. Using infrared thermographs to document differential heat (and therefore moisture retention) as well as radar imaging to reveal the disposition of the steel members, Silman was able to unequivocally state his belief that Charity Hospital as built far exceeded standards of its day, and with minor adaptation could meet current code load standards. To download the full report follow the link here.

To read Times-Picayune coverage, click here.

1 Anecdotal reports indicated that Charity Hospital had settled approximately 18" very early on. The WPA reported in 1937 that in the first ten years of the U.S. Custom House, it had settled 19.33" in some places; when additional stories were added, settlement maximums had increased to some 28". See: Some Data in regard to Foundations in New Orleans and Vicinity Collected and Compiled by the Soil and Foundation Survey as Requested by Louisiana Engineering Society. Board of State Engineers of Louisiana, 1937, vol. I. The Custom House, on Canal between North Peters and Decatur, is one of the South's oldest federal buildings.

[Detail: Unidentified photographer, Charity Hospital's Facilities, c. 1940. Box 27, Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries].

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