Looking down, not up?

Looking down, not up?

Today, we are celebrating an award to our structural engineer, Ehlert & Bryan, specifically to principal, Jason Sparrow.  Jason’s approach to this project has been singled out by the Structural Engineering Association of Metropolitan Washington for their creative solution to some dicey conditions.  See their award at  https://seamw.org/projects-2019 .  An early decision by both owners,  Riverside Church and developer PN Hoffmann, placed the new church at the prominent corner of Maine Avenue SW and 7th Street SW directly across from PN Hoffmann’s signature Wharf.  Normally designing sacred spaces we are focused upward seeking inspiration from the heavens.  For this unique project we had to start looking below – below the ground.


The WMATA Green Line passes directly under the corner of the lot.  The location presented design issues but the elevation of the tunnel was even more challenging.  With the top of the tunnel a mere 30 feet below grade, serious coordination with WMATA was required, options were analyzed and the engineers at Ehlert & Bryan proposed a stunning solution!  Let’s cantilever over the tunnel to avoid bearing on top of it. Remember Fallingwater!  After calculations were scrutinized, WMATA engineers agreed. Two enormous concrete grade beams, each 8’ x 8’ and 32’ long were approved.


That settled the architects said, “but wait, what about vibration from the trains. Those 7000 series trains are longer, louder and heavier than earlier models.”  Some intense research revealed actual standards for ground source vibration published by the Federal Transit Administration.  On-site testing using a seismograph revealed levels well below recognized standards for assembly uses like churches.


Every project comes with its own challenges – budget, scale, site limitations – successful results never just appear – you have to search for them.  At GBR Architects our absence of specialization in a single building type encourages a fresh approach each time, just like the structural engineers from Ehlert & Bryan did in the story above.  Active questioning, active exploration of alternatives and active listening create the best solution.


After looking down at what lurked and rumbled below we looked up to discover the inspiration for the relocated church right there in front of us –  their own history, their own story of a welcoming community in the heart of SW DC. The results – good, good,  good vibrations (as in none) and the overall acoustics……….speak for themselves! Bravo engineers from Ehlert & Bryan.  You got us off to a great start by looking down, not up!


Come and worship with Riverside Church some Sunday morning.  They rock. You will be glad you did.


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