July 2016

Local 46 Ironworkers Enter the New York Art World

New York City has long been renown for its host of museums. One of the more famous of them is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which has taken up residence at 11 W. 53rd St. since 1939. Now, there will be a new addition to the museum at 53 W. 53rd St., which is the address of a massive and innovative new project commonly known as the MoMA Building. It derives its name from the fact that the museum will be the sole tenant on the first five floors of the new midtown skyscraper.

There will be plenty of residential space left over as the reinforced concrete building will rise 77 stories above the ground to a final height of 1,050 feet. The lower floors have ceiling heights ranging anywhere from 18 to 28 feet, which make it truly compatible with some of the museum’s exhibits. As much of the museum is dedicated to the world of architecture, this new structure, with its cutting edge engineering design will provide a fitting home for its high profile tenant.

The most noticeable break with traditional design can be found in its reinforced concrete diagrids. These are the diagonally shaped columns that provide the main support for the structure. The columns contain anywhere from 12 to 30 verticals, which are a combination of #18 and #20 SAS reinforcing bars. They are connected with mechanical couplings and set into templates set at 10-foot intervals. These specific components are all supplied by Structural Engineering Services of Fairfield, New Jersey. All the bars are then encased in either 1/2 inch or 5/8 inch standard bands. 

Constructing these diagrids is a complex process. There are 15 different templates for the bars, and the angles at which they must be set also vary from between 59 and 63 degree slopes. The arches in the design of many of the floors call for long spans of verticals that must marry the dowels on each progressive floor. This makes positioning critical, especially when each of the supports is weighing in at between 3 and 4 tons, depending upon configuration. There will be an average of 10 such diagrids per floor, accounting for hundreds of tons of steel.

But the tonnage does not end there. Shear walls for the project contain 900 #11 bars used as verticals with bands fabricated from a range of bars from #5 to #9. They total 180 tons of straight steel and 60 tons of bent steel per floor. The 20,000-square-foot deck itself calls for 75 tons of steel in the bottom and top mats, as well as 50 tons of bending. Finally, the spandrel beams that ring the perimeter of each floor are approximately 100 feet in length, each containing 14 #14 bars. The slabs receive 10,000 psi concrete, while the columns and shear walls receive 14,000 psi concrete. As always, all cutting, bending and fabrication is completed by Local 46 (New York) members at the jobsite. Steel for this project is supplied by Harris Rebar/Barker Steel located in Pennsylvania.

As difficult and complex as the project is, it runs smoothly and efficiently due to the seasoned professionals at the helm. Sorbara Construction, a 100 percent union contractor in New York City for well over 30 years, was awarded the work via a standard competitive bid. While some contractors were hesitant to take on a project of this magnitude, Sorbara was eager to be part of it. 

Local 46 General Foreman John Gogatz, himself a 33-year Local 46 veteran and long-time Sorbara employee, has been with the project since its startup in 2015. While he exudes confidence, he does not take the task at hand lightly. “It’s a complicated system,” says Gogatz.

“It’s challenging, but in a good way. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but it is rewarding to be part of something that has never really been done before.”

John’s confidence comes, at least in part, from the knowledge that he can rely on his crew, many of whom he has worked with for years.  The nucleus of that crew consists of Deputy Foremen Ronnie Gogatz, Brian Benini and Sean Hughes. Further support comes from Detailer Mike Gogatz and Shop Steward Billy Reid. Shop Steward Reid keeps a tight grip on safety procedures, and although the job remains on time and on budget, it is not at the expense of injuries, for there have been none to date. 

At present, there are 35 reinforcing ironworkers at the site, but John expects that number to reach closer to 50 by the height of the project, which is expected to continue for two more years before completion. And while the exact number is still a little difficult to estimate, it should total hundreds of thousands of man-hours for Local 46. And that, like the many pieces of art that will be housed on those lower floors, is a thing of beauty.