Sliding into Troy

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The text below is mostly copied from the original handbook.

Sections in italics have been added in the Wiki version.


Contents

Buildings which Move

Since you have been on this campus for a while, you have doubtless heard of the existance of several buildings which are, to quote the vernacular, "sliding down the hill into Troy." If you are like the average Tute student, however, you do not believe these stories at all. There are such buildings, however; what follows is a list of them, how they were discovered to be moving, and what, if anything, is being done about it.

Indeed, students have their doubts about these stories. A quote from Lily chat:

-> From Strider [We hold these truths...], to rpi:
- as for west hall, it's not moving so no professor would have given a bad
- grade.. and as for securing a building by putting cables through one wall of
- the basement, about the only thing that would do is ensure that wall stayed
- in place while the rest of the building continued to slide.

Walker Labs

Contrary to its name, Walker Lab is the only building on campus which is absolutely, positively, not moving. It is built on the only outcropping of bedrock which appeared on the entire lower campus, and is generally used as the reference point against which all other building movement is measured.

West Hall

West Hall is built on a section of the hill which is, in fact, unstable. This was discovered many years ago, when Civil Engineers actually had lab classes in the use of the transit and other surveying instruments. Every two years, a class of juniors and seniors would go out and survey the campus. One year, a Civ. E. professor downgraded an entire section because they had measured West Hall as being six inches further down the hill than it had been two years before. The section protested, claiming that their measurements were accurate, and insisting that the professor check them for himself. The professor did this, and discovered that, in fact, West Hall was seven inches further down the hill than it had been two years earlier. Going back over earlier surveys, he also found that this represented a trend.

The professor did not, of course, change the grade that he gave the section. After all, they had still put the wrong position down on the map.

There is an engineering solution to every problem, and this one was no exception. The problem was, the land under the building was shifting, and there was not (and still isn't) any way to stop the earth from moving. So, long steel cables were run underground through tunnels and tied to the foundations of the Sage boiler room. Legend has it that there were originally four cables, and that only three remain, one of them having been cut through long ago by student dissidents.

The Folsom Library

There were two blunders made when the Folsom Library was built. First, the building was originally designed with the floors bowed upwards, with the intent that the weight of the books would bow the floors back to level, and slightly stress the walls. The idea was that this would make the building as a whole more durable. Of course the construction crew didn't understand this concept, and the building was built with level floors, which are now bowed slightly downward with the weight of the books.

Next, another architect calculated the necessary capacity for the foundation without realizing that the building was a library. Because of this, no allowance was made for the weight of the books within the building. Books, as you probably know from carrying them to and from class, are heavy, with the result that the entire building is on its way into Troy. The land formation which the library was built on, however, is much more solid than the soil under West Hall, and it has been calculated that the library will be about due for replacement by the time that the subsidence starts causing trouble with awkward slopes on the plaza between it and the VCC. It was speculated that the one inch per year subsidence rate would have caused the library elevator to become useless by 1986, due to the shaft going out of true.

Another quote from Lily chat:

-> From Strider [We hold these truths...], to rpi:
- as for the foslom library, I've always loved the irony of the two stories
- juxtaposed together... story 1 accounts for the weight of books and story 2
- doesn't. :-) (btw.. I find story #1 HIGHLY doubtful for several reasons...
- 1) I've heard it at other colleges, including Springfield college
- 2) pres-stressing concrete floors in that manner is an extremely common
- practice. it's doubtful the builders would not have heard of it.

The Communications Center

Note - this building is now called the Darren Communications Center (DCC).

The Communications Center was built on two different land masses. The 15th Street end is solidly on bed rock, and is not about to go anywhere; the end nearest the JEC is resting on an old river bed, and is slowly sinking into the mud. This is not instantly apparent, unless one looks in the tunnel between the JEC and the CC (which is available to anybody who knows how to get down to the first floor of either building). In this tunnel, there is an expansion joint, which was level when the tunnel was built. Needless to say, it is no longer level.

Again, the subsidence rate is minimal, and it will be many many years before the walkway to the JEC falls down. A much more worrisome problem to those of us in the CC is that the building may break in half, due to the uneven settling. Cracks are already appearing in the building, which will be aggravated by the construction of the CII; and doors in the CC have had to be rehung because of the doorframes changing shape.

As if the CC's cup of woe did not already run over, the 15th Street end of the building was built on top of an underground stream. This stream was not completely blocked off when the building was constructed, and still tries to flow into the place where the building is. This becomes evident in the air handler building just uphill from the CC, where the stream runs in and enters the air system, and on the first floor of the CC directly under the loading dock, which floods regularly every spring, despite the best (?) efforts of Physical Facilities.

The 15th St. Lounge (the Playhouse)

The Playhouse was originally purchased from the U.S. Army, for the sum of one dollar. (Or so tradition has it.) The Army then moved it, at their own expense, by truck, from North Carolina, to put it in its present location. Since that time, it has not moved much; it has been renovated, but that did not entail moving it at all.

The Hirsch Observatory

The Hirsch Observatory originally housed one medium-sized telescope which was used by the Astronomy Club for practice using the sort of equipment which existed in the real world (i.e. outside of RPI). When Generous Electric donated another, better telescope in 1982, a second dome was built to house it, since it was felt that the process of replacing the original telescope with the new one would cost more than simply building a new mounting system and putting the new telescope onto it.

The observatory immediately became known as the "Dolly Parton Observatory" for rather obvious reasons. As a matter of fact, as a prank, a group of students painted the tops of both domes red, added red plastic buckets to the structure, and then covered the entire thing with a "brassiere" made out of bed sheets.

The Observatory was on the site which was destined to become the New York State Center for Industrial Innovation (NYSCII, or just CII to us illiterate types), and so it had to be moved. Of course, this would jar the rather delicate mechanisms of the telescopes. So, it was decided to move only the dome containing the more recent of the two telescopes, the one donated by GE. This dome now lives on top of the Science Center.

The Houston Field House

Dr. Livingston Houston became the President of Rensselaer during World War II. As a graduate of RPI and a former RPI Engineer hockey player, one of his ambitions was to bring a community sports and performance complex to the Tri-City area of New York. His opportunity came when the US Military began a program to donate "surplus" military constructs to institutes of Education. In 1946, RPI applied for, and was awarded, a large Navy warehouse in Davisville, Rhode Island. Over the next year and a half, the Military and RPI collaborated to dissasemble, transport, and reassemble the building in Troy. RPI was able to supervise a refit and redesign while the building was in reconstruction, to better serve the needs of the campus community. The Houston Field House officially opened on the 125th Anniversary of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, October 13, 1949. For the next couple decades, the Fieldhouse was known as the "Madison Square Garden of Upstate New York".

The Houston Field House is, and has been since its opening, the home of Rensselaer Hockey. It is also the home of the RPI women's hockey team. In early 2004, Renssealer President Shirley Ann Jackson announced plans to build a second Field House as part of a large East Campus Sports improvement project. The new fieldhouse will serve as an auxillarly construct, while the existing Houston Fieldhouse will continue to serve the Hockey needs of the Institute.

Most Other Campus Buildings

Most of the buildings on campus are, in fact, sinking into the mud. For instance, something went wrong with the footings for the Jonsson Engineering Center; a test footing was dug up during construction, and was found to have bulged out in all directions instead of continuing on down to bedrock as it had originally been intended to do. Because of this, there are twice as many footings as had originally been planned, which is the main reason why there are so many pillars in inconvenient places in the building. While it doesn't seem to have affected the building much, there are many who would say that a building the size of the JEC with the foundation which it seems to have would fall down in ten years. The building was built less than ten years ago; perhaps this prediction will turn out to be true. It is perhaps worthy of note that only 3/4 of the building ever got finished, and that architects called in to determine the feasibility of adding the missing 1/4 claimed that it couldn't be done.

Cogswell Labs are built on a normal, for RPI, land mass, and so will probably fall down at some time in the far future. There is gradual subsidence, and the walls are cracking; no structural damage has been done yet, but that says nothing for the future.

The Materials Research Center was built on two different land masses which are subsiding at different rates. The entire building was built with an expansion joint in the middle of it, and of course, the expansion joint has expanded. What more needs be said? The only thing which is keeping the buiding from breaking in half is that the architect designed it so that it would bend rather than breaking. Another story is that there is a law which states that a single building cannot be built from two different sources of federal funds, and the expansion joint is part of what makes the building into two legally separate buildings. Each half of the building does have a plaque stating that the building to which it is attached was provided through a different source. However, it is still true that the expansion joint has expanded.

The most stable buildings on campus are: the Quad, which is very small and light as buildings go, and is also built on bed rock; the Armory (or the Alumni Sports and Recreation Center), which was built by the Army, and so is ten or twelve times as strong as it needs to be; the Field House, which has no walls except the outside four, and so tends to not weigh down the earth very much; and the Freshman Dorms, Hall, Cary, Crockett, and Bray, which were built as ten-year temporary buildings some thirty years ago. Curiously enough, Nason and Warren Halls, which were built to the same pattern as 15 year temporary buildings sone 20 years ago, are beginning to fall apart; and Nugent, Davison, and Sharp Halls have been plagued with various troubles ever since they were built. These three dorms were, of course, built as permanent residence facilities.