Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over

General Abstract

2 - Phoenix Rising: The Rescue and Reconstruction of the Mercer Building in Omaha's Old Market Historic District

Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101AH

A three-alarm fire on January 9, 2016, left the 109-year-old Mercer Building in Omaha's Old Market National Register Historic District a hollow, smoldering shell. For over half a century this former fruit wholesaler's warehouse was the hub of the city's arts and entertainment district, housing M's Pub, one of Omaha's most iconic bar/restaurants, and six upper floor loft apartments. Firefighters sprayed over a million gallons of water on the fire in sub-zero temperatures, rescuing the building shell but leaving the four-story unsupported brick walls coated with tons of ice, and structurally compromised.
City officials issued a demolition order the following day. The building owner appealed the order and engaged BVH Architects, along with Chicago consultant Stephen Kelley, to analyze the structure to determine if it could be saved and rebuilt.
Built in 1910, the Mercer Building was designed as a banana wholesaler's warehouse, with 24" thick brick bearing walls and heavy timber floor joists and beams supported by cast iron columns. The fire destroyed the wood floor and roof leaving the four-story walls unsupported and in danger of collapse.
This presentation describes the analysis and subsequent stabilization process that led to the eventual lifting of the demolition order, and to the reconstruction of the historic building. Archaic building technologies that served to contain the fire and prevent the total collapse of the structure will be explored and highlighted in this case study of how our culture races to the conclusion to tear down rather that reconstruct even the most ravaged historic structures. Discussion will also include repair and conservation of fire damaged materials, integration of new systems, along with methodology used to integrate current building codes and regulations with the building restoration.
After a two-year process, the landmark building has regained the prominence it held as the hub of the Old Market Historic District. M's Pub has also risen from the ashes, again becoming one of the city's most revered dining establishments and gathering places.
After the devastating fire and the threat of eminent demolition, persistent efforts by the owner and preservation team saved the building and persevered through the bureaucratic obstacles to restore one of Omaha's landmarks, when to many, the expeditious solution was to bring on the wrecking ball.

Learning Objectives:

Gary R. Bowen

Architect/Principal
BVH Architecture

Gary Bowen, FAIA is a principal at BVH Architecture in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. For over 50 years, Mr. Bowen's career has merged his passion for preservation with design excellence. Having won over 30 AIA design awards for rehabilitation, repurposing, and new projects in Omaha and across the nation, his efforts in promoting the best practices in design, preservation, and professional leadership have led to his induction to the AIA College of Fellows in 1996, and to receipt of the Cunningham Medal, the highest award for the practice of architecture in Nebraska in 2009. He has served as chairman of the Omaha Landmarks Commission and Omaha Landmarks Inc., and served on the AIA national Board of Directors from 1994-96.

Presentation(s):

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Jonathan Spodek

Jonathan C. Spodek, FAIA, FAPT has over 30 years of experience in the architectural and preservation fields. He currently has a limited architectural practice in Indiana and serves as a Professor of Architecture at Ball State University. As a Professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University, he teaches design studios and courses in building technology that include building documentation, historic building construction materials and techniques, and evaluation/diagnostic methods. Mr. Spodek’s research interests focus on non-destructive building evaluation. He has also received several research grants to develop work on using sustainable construction practices on existing/historic housing. His initiatives in academia focusing on building preservation provide a scholarly component to his professional work as an architect.

Presentation(s):

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2 - Phoenix Rising: The Rescue and Reconstruction of the Mercer Building in Omaha's Old Market Historic District



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