Aside from working under a time crunch, another challenge of the project was ensuring the new cornice fit into the original framing on the building, which was being retained. “The framing has metal brackets that stick out from the building, so based on the configuration we had to make sure the brackets lined up with a gap in our molded dentils,” says Axel.
Glassline in Plymouth, Mich., also understands the challenges of restoration projects on old city buildings. The company is in the midst of a three-year renovation on Detroit’s Book Tower, a 38-story Renaissance-style skyscraper in the city’s Washington Boulevard Historic District that opened in 1926. The 13th floor of the building is adorned with 12 caryatids – sculpted maiden figures that provide architectural support. One of Glassline’s tasks was to replace the original 2,500-pound terra cotta caryatids with much lighter GFRP ones. The first challenge was to accurately reconstruct the detailed figures from one of the originals, which was broken into many pieces upon removal from the building. Glassline, which had previously taken field measurements of the figures, received the pieces in four large boxes. The only fully intact piece was the 250-pound head.
“We dug through those boxes and reassembled the components, which were fairly identifiable body parts,” says Guy Kenny, president of Glassline. “Then we pinned them altogether, applied a plaster coat, sanded it, prepped it and used it to make a silicone mold.” It took about a month to make two sets of molds – one for six maiden figures facing right and the other for six facing the left.
Next, Glassline fabricated one 13-foot-tall caryatid for approval from the building owner. Once the company received the green light, it manufactured the remaining figures using a U.V.-resistant gel coat and a fire-retardant polyester resin reinforced with fiberglass chopped strand and hand laid mat. While most of the fabrication utilized hand lay-up, some of the detailed parts – such as toes and fingers – required cast polymer molding. Each figure took about five days to make. The finished maidens weighed only 600 pounds each.
Another challenge was making sure the finished caryatids attached correctly under an eave on the Book Tower. A steel frame runs from the building wall on a 45-degree angle through the body of each caryatid into a slot underneath the eave. The maidens and steel frame needed to line up with the eave to support it. “When the maidens came off the truck and were raised into position, everybody wanted them to fit like a glove,” says Kenny. “And they did. The contractors installed the maidens in record time.”