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Mixing Research and Practice

While I was in Seattle for the APT conference, something interesting happened. Roughly three years after The Structure of Skyscrapers in America was published by the APT, it was reviewed by Tyler Sprague in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Part of being an author is having people react to what you’ve written, and I admit to a fair amount of nervousness whenever I start reading a formal review. In this case…I was floored. I’ve rarely read such a good review of any book anywhere, and it was beyond gratifying to think it was for a book I’d written.

But the point here is not just to brag. (I’ll admit, it’s a little bit to brag.) Mr. Sprague made an important point that is really not about me: research into old buildings, at its best, includes both archival research and examination of the actual structures. My only quibble with this:

Acting as a guide, Friedman demonstrates unparalleled expertise in the history of structures gathered over years of research and practice. His extensive experience as a structural engineering consultant on preservation projects makes him uniquely qualified to conduct such a study. Friedman applies his engineering expertise to his analysis of these historic structures, while drawing on his perspective as a historian to interpret their context and development. Rather than depending solely on written historical sources or archival drawings, Friedman relies on his firsthand experience as a consultant working on these structures.

is that it’s not just my experience. I was able to draw on the experience of everyone in our office because we regularly discuss projects, internally, in more depth than is required simply to produce our work. The same amendment applies to “This chapter [on alterations] presents knowledge that Friedman has accumulated over years of preservation experience and will be especially useful for anyone researching a standing structure.” I’m been fortunate to work with a group of great engineers who have shared their experiences with me. 

I don’t have any quibble with “In the historical scholarship of the built environment, such a combination of technical expertise, historical perspective, and preservation experience is quite rare.” I agree with that completely. Our entire practice is based on the premise that there is a place for that combination in the consulting engineering world; we strive to deliver that combination to our clients.

Below, a gallery of buildings. Some of them are part of the research that went into the book (i.e., ten stories or taller, substantially complete by the end of 1900) and are also buildings we have worked on. Some don’t quite qualify for the book, mostly by being a bit too young, but where the same research helped inform our work on projects. The ten projects represented here are far from the only ones that relate back to this research, just the ones where the pictures were closest at hand.