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Making way in the windy city: a demolition company takes down a Chicago landmark to usher in a new architectural era.

In a day and age of continual engineering progress and innovation, older structures that have outlived their function are often brought down to make way for modern buildings that serve a new purpose for a forward-moving city. As the adjacent landscape changes over time, a building that was once well designed may not fit in with the surrounding scenery. Not even historical landmarks are exempt from this phenomenon.

When it was built in the mid-1950s, the Chicago Sun-Times building was a prime example of the marriage of form and function--the architecturally progressive edifice housed one of the most respected newspapers in the United States. Constructed of glass and granite, the rectangular seven-story building reflected the smooth, minimalist design that was popular at the time.

However, as design progressed and aesthetic preferences changed, the building that was once the essence of simplicity began to look dated. While the Sun-Times continued to produce an outstanding publication, its home looked old and weary compared to the new, more contemporary structures that had started to fill the Chicago skyline.


As the end of the lease on the land approached, the Sun-Times management decided to make a change, moving its staff out of the outdated building and into a new location. With the building empty and sitting on prime real estate, it didn't take long for a buyer to snap up the property.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump purchased the site for $73 million with plans to build his latest venture, the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Upon completion in 2008, this $750 million, 92-story glass-encased structure will stand at 1,360 feet, making it the second-tallest building in North America after Chicago's own 1,450-foot tall Sears Tower. The building will hold 286 luxury hotel condominiums and 472 residential condominium units, one of which has sold for a reported $28 million.

In order to make way for the Trump skyscraper, the Sun-Times structure first had to be torn down. Chicago-based Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., one of the world's largest demolition contractors, was selected to handle the removal of the structure. With more than 37 years of experience, Brandenburg's expertise in demolishing buildings in highly populated urban areas made the company an ideal contractor for the job.


But this project certainly posed many demolition challenges for Brandenburg. The Sun-Times building was bordered by the Chicago River and three high-rise structures--a 56-story residential building, a 52-story office park and the historic Wrigley Building. With the skyscrapers surrounding the building, the demolition process had to be highly controlled so that debris would not scatter and damage the adjacent structures. Steps also had to be taken to ensure debris would not fall into the river and possibly contaminate the water. In addition to the actual building demolition, Brandenburg also had to remove a 400-foot portion of neighboring Wabash Avenue to accommodate the design of the Trump structure. All of this work had to be accomplished in seven short months.

"With a demolition project this size, seven months is a very short amount of time to complete the amount of work this job required," says Bill Moore, Brandenburg vice president. "It required us to be very focused on efficiency."

Not one to rest on his laurels, Trump instructed demolition to begin two weeks after his purchase of the Sun-Times land was complete. He even brought his hit reality television show "The Apprentice" to the site in October 2004 to document Brandenburg's first steps in taking down the building.

After the TV cameras left, Brandenburg set to work on combating the difficulties the site posed by employing several innovative measures. "Because we couldn't let anything fall into the Chicago River, we parked two barges in front of the building while we were doing the demolition," says Moore. "The barges were positioned to catch anything that might fall from the structure, which eased concerns about wreckage contaminating the river."

With the barges in place, crews were then able to begin their work. Because of the numerous structures surrounding the site, less controlled methods such as implosion and wrecking ball demolition were ruled out. The use of techniques like this would have caused debris to scatter and possibly damage neighboring buildings. Instead, crews started at the top of the building and worked their way down. Equipment was lifted by crane to the roof of the building in order to dismantle the structure floor by floor until the foundation was exposed. This process allowed Brandenburg to conduct their work in a controlled manner that eliminated the chance of adversely impacting nearby structures.

In addition to the tight quarters, the building's construction itself posed demolition challenges. The structure was composed of steel beams encased in concrete, which acted as a fireproofing material. In order to remove the beams, enough concrete had to be chipped away from the each end to make way for a torch to cut the beams away. Brandenburg had to use concrete demolition tools that were powerful enough to break up the large amounts of concrete, but were also light enough to do the concrete removal on each floor without breaking through and falling to the floor below. Equipment weight was a particular concern, as the project "required equipment that the building would support but was also strong enough to get the job done in a timely manner," says Moore.

Brandenburg overcame this equipment dilemma with the assistance of SES Inc. of West Chicago. The staff at SES helped Brandenburg deploy a fleet of skid-steer loaders outfitted with Atlas Copco SB 450 hydraulic breaker attachments to remove the concrete from the beams.

The SB 450 is constructed with a one-piece cast iron casing that holds all of the tool's housings. Eliminating the need for individual component housings reduces the weight of the unit to 922 pounds. The combination of the small loaders and light breakers allowed this equipment to be lifted by crane to the top of building without concern of breaking through the supporting floor.

The breaker's weight had other advantages for Brandenburg as well. "Since the Atlas Copco breakers were lighter, they were also easier on the skid steers," says Moore. This, in turn, reduced maintenance issues with the loaders.


After the breakers removed enough concrete for the beams to be cut down, the steel was lowered to the ground by a crane. Now that the work was centered on the ground and equipment weight was not an issue, equipment dealer SES recommended Brandenburg employ excavator-mounted Atlas Copco HB 4200 hammers to remove the remaining concrete coating from the beams. One of Brandenburg's primary goals of the project was to recycle as much of the structure's steel as possible, since the city of Chicago had recently implemented mandatory recycling requirements for construction and demolition projects. As one of the premier demolition contractors in the country, the company wanted to use this high-profile job as an example of how to salvage as much material as possible from a complex project.

This recycling commitment required the steel beams to be completely stripped of their concrete coating. The HB 4200s broke off the concrete, producing a clean beam ready for recycling. All materials were then loaded into trucks to be carried away for disposal. Brandenburg succeeded in recycling 78 percent of the materials created during the demolition process.

Demolition of the building was completed in June 2005, just in time for Trump to break ground for his new project. According to Moore, the entire project went very smoothly. "An experienced crew and reliable equipment helped us get the project done efficiently and on time," he says.

It seems only fitting that one of the biggest names in real estate chose one of the biggest names in the demolition industry for this high-profile project. "The customer wanted a demolition contractor who could guarantee the job was done safely and completed on time, and we knew we could deliver," says Moore.

This article was submitted on behalf of Atlas Copco Construction Tools Inc., West Springfield, Mass.
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Title Annotation:JOB STORY
Author:Thorp, John
Publication:Construction & Demolition Recycling
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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