Sunday, February 28, 2010

Production and Delivery of Brownstone

Question: I realize that, in addition to not knowing how babies are made, I don't really know much about the production and delivery of brownstone. Were pieces cut and shipped? Or did raw stone come to the site, and cut there? Same for the ashar. If cut off site, surely that means extensive drawings were made - but no one has located a single drawing for brownstone rowhouses in nyc which details individual stones. How about steam carving, how did that affect things? Were the lightly incised lines of the neo-Grec a result of powered carving tools, succeeding hand carving of the older Italianate scrolled brackets?

I cannot be specific in answer but I can throw you some bones. Hope this helps with your morning movements.

Stone is quarried, then fabricated. The quarry operation results in large rough blocks. The fabrication sorts out good frm bad stone and trims down the sizes, and thus reduces the weight and size for transport. As stone is heavy, and as there is a need for concentration in one area of the skilled labor that can fabricate stone, as well as the equipment that can be capital intensive, the fabrication usually occurs fairly close to the quarry. Reasons for the concentration of labor in a geographic area besides the location of the quarry include family attachments, a non-commuting society, national ethnic community cohesion, and the need for a steady supply of projects to fabricate. When you work in the keeping of mules, power, steam engines etc. it makes sense to concentrate the fabrication process in a tight geographic area. Bring in trains, trucks, etc.and the equipment/power becomes somewhat mobile... but the stone fabrication machines become larger, heavier, more costly and not exactly portable, and not quite what one would set up in the small area of a usual 25' wide work site on a city brownstone (jostling for territory w/ other trades).

One way of cutting stone in a quarry, that was used, may still be used, for a majority of the sandstone at Cornell from the Lenroc Quarry in Ellis Hollow was a very long, and I mean very long three strand of steel wire that ran up the hill to a pulley and as it was rotated and the wire passed over the stone it was fed a stream of water and sand (a whole lot of these operations were shut down by OSHA regs in the 70's). This would have been used not for fine fabrication, but for cutting stone into convenient sizes for transport to fabrication -- though I would amend for them cutting standard sizes to go direct to a work site. Lenroc as an example was cut to a standard set of thicknesses with the lengths left varied as they came from the quarried stone. The thicknesses would stack in a wall with even joints and the field mason's fabrication would consist of trimming the ends or roughing up the face. A lot of attention is paid to how many times a stone needs to be cut. Variations in working would be up to the imagination of the field masons. It never occurred to me to look into how the wire was powered. It does come to mind here that all of the fabrication shops that I have ever visited have been fairly open air affairs, roofs with few walls or at least very large doors. Keeping them clean of dust, air quality control, is an issue -- need the natural wind to blow them out. The cutting sheds also concentrate lifting equipment, overhead rails and derricks and such.

But on-site and off-site fabrication also depends on if the brownstone is ashlar or rubble. A rubble construction would be delivered to the site in chunks and the stone worked (fabricated) by the masons on site. Made to fit. Usually worked by hand. I don't know what steam carving is... the upgrade in technology from hand fabrication would be compressed air driven chisels if that is what you mean. But a stonemason would need a substantial operation to equip a field crew with compressed air, and so the tendency I suspect would have been to fabricate by hand even into a date when the compressed air technology was available, and that the technology would have been used in a fabrication shop first... where a stationery compressed air system could be installed. We have not always had small portable gas-engine or electric powered air compressors at hand.

My surmise is that the brownstone ashlar was fabricated to standardized sizes, possibly only standardized by each fabrication operation, meaning that one fabrication shop may make their stone a different size than their neighbor. There may have been field cutting to trim standardized sizes to fit, but in general any work done in the field takes longer, is less quality controlled, and usually more expensive than if it is done in a fabrication shop. In this manner of cut-to-fit sizes a brownstone facade would not be much different a process than of setting one block upon another as in the analogy of setting concrete block that comes in standardized sizes. Thus a facade would not need much more in drawings than lines of the plane and fenestrations -- and for the most part, and considering that the masons would have done a few facades and be used to the work, the elevation drawings with pencil scratches would probably do. [One of our family relics is one sheet of ruled three-ring school paper with pencil calculations -- math -- writ up on both sides of it, and it is the working paper of my maternal grandfather as the sole design record of his having built a specific spiral staircase, we know where it is, and there is no drawing - on this level of involvement architects and real estate marketers drive the need for drawings -- unfortunately this minimalist practice and the lack of pretty documentation drives the romantic illusion that old time trades all used a common knowledge base, acquired through genetic osmosis despite cultural and regional differences of building, and only needed to be told to build a set of stairs and it would be absolutely perfect to a golden proportion for our inherited delight] I should note that 'industry' standardization of sizes of building materials is something that has become widely common only in the last 40 years (though that comment would take a whole lot of words for me to explain, but think in terms of the size of a contemporary brick and the size of a sheet of wallboard, and follow back the industry discussion in the 1970's re: grid modularization). Note also that some brownstone facades would have been more sophisticated than others, either a higher quality of stone, or better cut or smoother sanded faces, but in essence this higher quality of process work would have been done in a fabrication shop, and not in the field. The building industry has worked for many years toward increasing intelligence in the pre-building phases and to reduce the need for thinking (it uses up too much time to stop and think) in the hands-on field work process.

We get down to the ornament. This again I would propose was done in a fabrication shop near to the quarry. My reason for this is that if a fabricator (capitalist entrepreneur) was busy cutting stone to dimensional sizes then from out of their work flow they would have a small quantity of stone that would require more shaping/carving and if they are able to sustain enough of this work to keep a carver busy and employed in use of their skill set then it makes sense to hold onto that person, keep them happy and not let them wander around the countryside. One problem that I have had in the past is in getting acquainted with a stone carver and talking w/ them, they always are asking for work, and then by the time I get them work they have left town, left the state, left the country... and so it becomes a quick decision to replace the stone w/ GFRC and to stop talking w/ stone carvers as they are an unreliable lot. Even the ones that stay in the area are a bit on the un-businesslike side of things, very artsy and unstable, IMHO. So, as a fabricator, if you happen to tame one of these spirits it is an investment that is required that you would want to get a return on. As to drawings, someone probably drew something but it was not in their interest, or need, to have the drawings on the work site (generally the back sides of the stone that fit into the wall would be to the standardized, or near to the standardized size and would simply fit in like any other block in the plane) and so if there are drawings they would likely be at the fabrication shop... if they were not already discarded. Who in the NYC environment would have an interest to go chase after the now deceased brownstone quarries and the more obscure fabricators associated with them and seek out the paperwork? In high-end work it is possible that a sculptor fashioned clay mock-ups for the approval of the wealthy client and for use of the stone carver in the fabrication shop, though I do not know this for certain it is used in other ornamental fabrication processes. There is also the opportunity, when there was a whole lot of ornamental work, for carvers to gather together capital and start specialized carving studios.

Since in the fabrication of this line of bull I have not used any Hispanics or Jamaicans so far... when I bid on the restoration of the San Jacinto Monument the stonemason out of St. Louis suggested that the stone, quarried in Texas, be shipped in blocks to Mexico for fabrication as it would be cheaper, including the cost of transport, to have a pre-NAFTA Mexican workforce shape the individual stones to size, despite that there was a fabrication shed (occupied by a gaggle of very busy Hispanics) within two-hundred feet of the hole in the ground.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Faux Fireplace, Day 8


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Faux Fireplace, Day 7 w/ PTN advertisement


Faux Fireplace, Day 6


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Faux Fireplace, Day 5