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More Old Curvy Steel

Another view of Union Station in Utica, a bit less monumental than the waiting room in yesterday’s photos. The New York Central Railroad built this station in 1914, which was a time of transition in the steel industry. Wide-flange beams had been invented in Europe, and Bethlehem Steel had licensed the patent and was producing them in the US, but most beams here were still I-beams and most girders and columns were still riveted built-up sections.

The photo above shows the end of one of the original platform canopies, with a modern bridge above it to allow people to cross the tracks to the far platform. The end of the canopy is a 180-degree curve, which is a visually nice but ultimately unnecessary detail. The wood plank roof is supported by two curved beams (a channel at the outer edge of the curve, an I-beam about two thirds of the way down the curve radius), and the curved beams are supported on three curved brackets coming off the columns. The brackets, like the center-line girder running from the end column back to the next, and the column itself, are built up of angles and plates.

There was a fundamental change in the economics of steel framing from that era to ours: it used to be that material was relatively more expensive than labor, so the extra labor to create miniature trusses as girders was worth it, if it saved metal. Now labor is more expensive than material, so we tend to use repetitive sizes to simplify fabrication. Nothing is stopping us from creating steel like this now except architectural fashion and economics…which is why we generally don’t create this now.